For Ash Wednesday, I ask you a Lenten question: What do you sacrifice for another that causes you to die a little death? How do you let that death find Life in Christ?
Little deaths are those things we do on a daily basis that are a sacrifice on our part for the good of someone else. Parents do this all the time, giving their portion of dinner to a hungry child, clothing their kids when they themselves need new boots, prioritizing a college education over replacing a car. For me, it’s serving my husband when he’s ill and has no way of reciprocating. These little deaths can be holy, but often they are formed out of habits, good intentions, or our internal sense of “shoulds and oughts.” Our strictly human morality says, “doing these things makes us better people,” and perhaps it does, but these are regular, everyday little deaths. Jesus, for one, says these little sacrifices are a part of normal human life: “11 What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent; 12 or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion?” (Luke 11:11-12).
If these sacrifices are a normal part of life, they aren’t automatically formative. The thing that makes these sacrifices holy is the power of the Holy Spirit. When we submit these sacrifices to God and do them as acts of worship, it becomes possible for us to be transformed by our little sacrifices, our little deaths. “13 If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”
Knowing and doing what is right doesn’t make us holy–in fact it can embitter us to deny our own needs for others. Instead, we must submit our sacrifices to the Lord in the midst of making them, and ask for his Holy Spirit to come enliven them. In this way what was dead has new life, both to ourselves and the recipient, and the Gospel has been acted out in the world.