Lenten Reflection: Into the fire

Feb. 22, 2023

“…put on the new self created in the likeness of God.”   Ephesians 4:22

“I’ve been told most of my life that I’m no good and will never be anything.”

At the edge of the crackling fire, sparks rising and disappearing into the black sky, stood a 17-year-old named Manny.

“You begin to believe it when you hear it over and over.”  The weight of the words was audible in his voice.  A circle of fellow students and teachers intently listened. “But you’ve told me that I am somebody. That I can do great things”.

While sharing, Manny gingerly clenched a large pinecone. Extending his hand toward the group, he loosened his grip.  The cone now rested on his outstretched palm for all to see.

Manny and his peers had just completed a rigorous, five-day, “Rites of Passage” sojourn through New York’s Adirondack Mountains. A few hours earlier, the exhausted group of students had arrived at their campsite for a final evening together.  Their previous week included demanding hikes, paddles, portages, the swatting of annoying black flies, and even a 24 hour solo excursion on their own island in Lake Saranac—with nothing but a small tent, a little food, a sleeping bag and a journal.

Intentionally designed to encourage our high school seniors to reflect deeply on their upcoming life transition, the Rites of Passage functions as a demarcation between adolescence and adulthood. Tonight’s fireside activity invited each student to engage in a symbolic ritual.  Selecting one item from nature—representing a piece of their life needing to be left behind—students were to give a brief explanation, then toss the artifact in a bonfire.

“You see my pinecone is closed,” continued Manny, apparently drawing a parallel to his own life. “But when I throw it in the fire it will open up, becoming what God has planned for it.”

Manny paused for a moment, then pitched the cone into the embers and watched her shuttered scales slowly unfurl like fingers of an opening hand. Applause and cheers erupted.

As we enter this season of Lent, I think of Manny’s moment by the fire—and his courage to release things holding him back from taking a next step. Past hurts. Demoralizing low expectations from friends and family. Entrenched insecurities. His unnecessary baggage needed a release to make space for something new, something bigger, something better in his life.

And isn’t this the point of Lent? We pause. We reflect. We ask God to reveal things blocking our ability to fully receive the transformational grace and hope of Easter.  It’s a time to deliberately open ourselves to change.

My friend Jim Wallace says that Lent “…is traditionally meant to be a time of reflection, reevaluation, and renewal in our lives, both for the community of faith and in our relationship to the world. But the “R” word that is most characteristic of Lent is ‘repentance.’ And repentance, biblically speaking, is not about the fire and brimstone of television preachers but rather about the gospel call to turn around and go in a whole new direction.”

Saint Paul says it another way, “…put off the old self….and put on the new self created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.”  Transformation only occurs when we choose to open the door of change.

So whether we want our lives to move in a new direction, or we hope to discover a more complete and new God-centered self, Ash Wednesday is like a calendar reminder on a smart phone. This sacred day reminds us to start the process of taking inventory—of our lives, of our faith, of our idols, of our excess baggage—and prepare to let go so something new can happen.

For the next 6 weeks of Lent, let’s spend a few minutes each day next to the campfire with Manny in spirit. Pray for courage to let go of the pinecones you hold so dearly. Release them into the flame so you can truly open your heart and become what God has planned for you.

Blessings –

Bruce Main
President and Founder