Mardi Gras ended just in time.

As police in New Orleans walked through the streets around midnight to signal the formal end of the city's often-brazen public bash, the Lenten season was officially getting underway.

Today is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the 40-day period (excluding Sundays) that ends with Easter Sunday.

Across the land, Christians from various denominations will commemorate the day by fasting, praying or participating in ceremonies in which ashes are crossed on their foreheads. Many will abstain from a particular food, beverage or activity until Easter, in recognition of Jesus' great sacrifice.

These rituals symbolize our connection to God and our acknowledgment that despite being created in His image, we are mere mortals who sin and mess up more often than we get it right.

What I enjoy most about this season is the opportunity it gives us to publicly embrace our shortcomings, or at least recognize the fact that we often don't measure up, faithwise.

In our "survival of the fittest," "may the best man (or woman) win" society, it's not easy to admit that you're not perfect.

Most of us know that perfection is impossible in human form, but let the tabloids, news magazine shows and celebrity profiles tell it, perfection can be bought in a bottle or Botox needle, discovered in a therapist's chair or molded on a personal trainer's gym floor mat.  It can be acquired at an elite university or in some of the boardrooms of the most powerful companies across the globe.

The truth is, if we were perfect we might not feel a need for God.  And surely we wouldn't give a second thought to Lent. Then, where would we find ourselves?

Draw close to God, and God will draw close to you. Wash your hands, you sinners; purify your hearts, you hypocrites. Let there be tears for the wrong things you have done. Let there be sorrow and deep grief. Let there be sadness instead of laughter, and gloom instead of joy. When you bow down before the Lord and admit your dependence on him, he will lift you up and give you honor. James 4: 8-10 (New Living Translation)


Stacy Hawkins Adams is the author of the Christian fiction novels Nothing but the Right Thing and Speak To My Heart. She is also a freelance writer and inspirational columnist. Stacy often speaks to audiences about the blessings that come with authentically living one's faith. She and her husband, Donald, have two children. Read her weblog on Crosswalk.com Weblogs.

Original publication date: March 2, 2006