What is parenting if not equipping our children with the ability to function in the world?
While the hoped for end-result of parenting is always the same (an adult person), each of us helps our children get there in a variety of ways. In my own parenting, one of my main goals for my children is the development of emotional intelligence and empathy, which means, “Go check on your brother…” is a common refrain. We also practice saying “sorry” and try to learn what “sorry” actually means (i.e. it doesn’t mean “the thing I have to say so I can go back to doing what I want”). As adults, we get a lot of practice at managing the fallout of interpersonal wrongs between our children.
But I also know that I make many missteps, in parenting and in life. It is a lot harder to admit our stumbling. Certainly to ourselves and our partners, but especially to our children.
Even still, I believe that one of the greatest gifts we can give our children is the ability to see us admit when we are wrong.
Ash Wednesday is about this incredibly difficult aspect of human life: admitting that we fall short. The Ash Wednesday liturgy is structured around the Imposition of Ashes followed by the recitation of Psalm 51 and the Litany of Penitence. The beautiful language conveys one simple, if difficult, idea: Try as we might, we mess up. The ashes on our forehead are a sign of our “mortality and repentance.”
Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.
Our ashes and words acknowledge to God, to one another and to ourselves that we are still works-in-progress.
At my church we’ve been undergoing renovations on and off for over two years. We’ve had temporary worship spaces, temporary offices, and doors we can’t use for periods of time. Modern construction sites sometimes apologize for these inconveniences with signs that say “Pardon Our Dust.” I think about these signs every year at Ash Wednesday because “Pardon Our Dust” is the best summary of Ash Wednesday I’ve ever heard. The ashes on our forehead are a message to ourselves and to those around us that we’re a work-in-progress, mortals made from dust, and sin reveals our dustiness; but we’re committed to working on it!
It’s important that our kids understand that this process of repentance is something we all need to do. Do you remember the moment when you realized that your parents didn’t actually have it all together? When we hide our repentance, it models shame instead of reality. What freedom there is in asking others to Pardon Our Dust!
When we bring our families to Ash Wednesday services, I hope we are able to communicate to our children: Just like you, your parents and loved ones mess up, but God loves us still. One of the ways we say thank you to God is by admitting our wrongs and trying to do better. We are under construction, Pardon Our Dust.