Ash Wednesday is a day to grow in our understanding of where to take our struggle with sin.

Parenting Lessons from the Ashes

Strict practitioners would not have approved of my methods, but on one long ago mid-winter Wednesday, I smeared ashes on the foreheads of my two preschoolers and myself. An offering of the hardwood that had heated our home the day before, these ashes were not “ceremonially correct” in any way, but at the time, I did not know that traditional Ash Wednesday ashes come from the remains of Palm Sunday palms. I did not even know about the forty-day season of Lent that follows Ash Wednesday.

However, I did know about sin—my own and my children’s. We were in “time out” season with one of our sons. At our wits’ end, we had exhausted Dr. Dobson, Elisabeth Elliot, and every parenting resource available in the 90’s. “Why is it so hard to be good?” our little Dobson-buster would ask, and his younger brother’s eyes would fill with tears whenever they were caught in collaborative naughtiness.

In this parenting pressure cooker, maternal apologies had become a daily occurrence. I was hoping to model repentance—while at the same time atoning for sharp words and a short fuse. “I was wrong; please forgive me,” were the words through which my sons were learning that their mother had not outgrown the struggle against sin. Ash Wednesday gives Christians an opportunity to grow in our understanding of where to take that struggle.

Maybe, like me, you come from a tradition that has not emphasized the liturgical calendar, and Ash Wednesday is just a misty concept for you. I invite you to click on over to Desiring God with me today for some thoughts on filling up that concept with some history, some spiritual practices, and some story telling from my parenting life here on this country hill.

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Wooden Cross Photo by James L.W on Unsplash

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40 thoughts on “Parenting Lessons from the Ashes”

  1. Thanks for a lovely meditation. Lent is such an important season – without it we cannot truly feel the Joy of Easter. I grew up without Lent, and (despite “knowing” better) always *felt* that Easter was a minor holiday compared to Christmas. But when I began observing Lent, Easter (which we Orthodox Christians call “Pascha”) truly began to be alive for me.


  2. I had no idea that ashes came from the Palm Sunday palms! I’ve never participated in this way for Lent, though I’ve done a count-down devotional with my son for years. Very interesting!


    1. There are so many ways for us to slow down and use the seasons as teaching tools with our kids. The count down sounds great, and, as I said in the article, I didn’t know what I was doing, but I knew I needed to do something!


  3. What a wonderful reflection to start of this season of Lent, Michele. I came to observe the liturgical calendar as an adult since my childhood church did not emphasize it. The time of Lent leading to Holy Week has given me so much more appreciation for the Easter season. Now I wonder how I ever fully celebrated the resurrection without meditating on the dark days that precedes it. How sweet of you to share your experience as a mother helping your sons to accept themselves (and you) while working to improve.


    1. Yes, I agree. I also wonder how I ever blundered into Easter with any kind of appreciation for resurrection when I had not fully entered into the suffering and death that preceded it.
      Those were challenging days in the parenting trenches, and now I have all kinds of compassion for my grown up kids and other young parents.


  4. Beautiful reflection to open this Lenten season! I had no idea the ashes came from the Palm Sunday palms. It is always a blessing to read your words.


  5. Awww, Michele, what a beautiful post. You’ve captured the challenge of mothering young sons so poignantly! And this? I loved it…

    “Our sin does not signal the end of our relationship with God. It’s a beginning, for it turns out that weakness is a powerful claim upon divine mercy.”

    It’s so true. I’m thankful our Father loves us and shows us His mercy. It’s one more reason to hope for the believer.


    1. Honestly, I would prefer to come to God only in strength and to function always “at my best.” The reality is far different, and so my sin tendencies actually end up serving a purpose. Unbelievable that God would pile grace upon grace!

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Learned much about Ash Wednesday. I love how you spread ashes on the forehead of you and the kids. It’s the heart motive and sentiment that counts. Everyone relates to those troublesome parenting days. Now that my family is older, I anoint bedroom door frames and other places in the house and pray over my grown children, my marriage, and against warfare. And I use olive oil or whatever I have on hand. Not sure in this case either what is “appropriate” oil to use.

    Your neighbor at #DestinationInspiration


  7. Heading over to Desiring God this very minute, Michele! I’m living out the “why is it so hard to be obedient” phase with a certain little superhero in my own world, and I’m hungry for your wisdom!!


  8. ‘Our sin does not signal the end of our relationship with God. It’s a beginning, for it turns out that weakness is a powerful claim upon divine mercy.’ So thankful for God’s plan of redemption. Praying for a heart that experiences it deeply and yearns to tell others about the hope therein. Thank you for this profound teaching, Michele.


    1. Thank YOU, Carlie, and I’m with you in praying for that kind of heart. It’s so easy to get caught up in the details of life and to forget the over arching story of God’s great rescue plan.


  9. Our church tradition doesn’t put emphasis on Ash Wednesday or Lent, but I believe it’s so important to truly mourn because of sin and all the suffering it causes so that we see our desperate need for the forgiveness and restoration that only comes from the cross and resurrection.


    1. I also come from a less liturgical tradition, so any of these observances I have mainly focused on here at home, either privately or with my kids. They certainly add a depth to our understanding and appreciation for Christ’s sacrifice.


  10. It definitely feels like a “parenting pressure cooker” around here! I’ve been observing Lent for a couple of years now. I didn’t grow up in a tradition that observed the liturgical seasons, but I see so much value in it. I feel a sense of relief on Ash Wednesday because I can “be real.” I don’t have to put on a facade of being perfect or having it all together because the ashes show the reality. We’re all sinners. We’re all mortal.


  11. […] Parenting Lessons from the Ashes — Teaming up with Desiring God is always a great experience, and this time, I’m sharing memories of Ash Wednesday, filling up that concept with some history, some spiritual practices, and some story telling from my parenting life here on this country hill. […]


  12. I so appreciate your vulnerability in sharing this! It touched my heart while I’m in the trenches with my two little guys right now. Thanks for sharing this at Booknificent Thursday on!


    1. Oh, Lord, pour your patience and love into Tina as she does life with those two little guys. Give her the stamina to listen long and to hold her tongue and help her to take a long view of all that you want to do in their sweet lives.


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