We’re on the cusp of Lent: those 40 days that echo the time Jesus spent in the wilderness being tempted. We will hear much about sin and repentance, yet this talk can be a joyful proclamation if it is well-framed.

Middle and upper elementary children have an innate sense of morality, and are comfortably judgmental of those who fail to meet their expectations. Without some way to confront their own sin*, it is easy to for them to fall into the black hole of shame. In the atrium, self-examination is grounded first in proclaiming who we are in Christ: “I am the True Vine, you are the branches. Abide in me,” or “You are children of the light. Remain as children of the light.” As they enjoy this truth and draw closer to God, they may become aware of certain blocks to the light or the life on the vine. Rather than run away, we are called to explore them, to lift them up to God for redemption. The desert of self-examination is a path to salvation, not condemnation.

As an adult, I know I don’t always “remain” or “abide,” and that my blocks are more serious. Sometimes I crave the desert, hoping God will vanquish one more demon. So today I am preparing myself for Ash Wednesday by grounding myself in Epiphany, to revisit that baptism proclamation: “You are my beloved; in you I am well pleased.” “Well pleased…” already, just for who I am. This gives me courage to go into that desert, to know that I am loved. It clarifies my vision to see demons where they are, not where they aren’t. Most importantly, it reminds me to trust in God’s faithfulness even when the terrain gets rough.

*The Hebrew word for “sin” can be translated as “miss the mark”.