i’ll trade these ashes in for beauty
and wear forgiveness like a crown
coming to kiss the feet of mercy
i lay every burden down
at the foot of the cross
These are the exact lyrics I will be leading the congregation to sing tomorrow. This God I know, he is so spot on with his timing in teaching me to internalise things I want to teach others.
In a very unexpected way, at a songwriters’ night I hosted today, I traded my ashes.
I carried the sting of disappointment, of feeling like certain people have let me down. I carried tangles stirred up from unresolved emotions that I had stuffed for the sake of moving too quickly on, because ministry is so fast paced and who has time to cry right? I carried the ashes from the death of dreams not yet grieved. I carried the elusive sand of answers I wish I had to the questions I can’t ask someone, at least not now. Through a string of events this week, God had been shaking things up in and around me to reveal these ashes that remained in me, not cleared, not processed, not faced.
At the start of the songwriters’ night, one friend started opening up about her burdens. When she cried, and nobody got scared, I knew God was doing a beautiful thing by creating a safe environment right there and then. And so bit by bit, turn by turn, we each brought the urns we were carrying and began to pour our ashes out, laid all, laid bare on the table.
Flashback to this morning where I prayed at our weekly staff prayer hour, “Lord, make us a church filled with members who will not distance ourselves from each other’s pain; who will not simply point each other to Jesus who heals and restores, but who will actually go the distance with each other, to play a part in that healing and restoration. May we be authentic with each other not just in our intentions but also with our actions. May we learn to walk with each other in our hurts.”
I wondered how long it’d take for that to come true. God showed me tonight that it didn’t have to take very long. It starts with safe groups. And these safe groups grow into safe villages. And these safe villages grow into safe churches. But we each need to bring our ashes, and lay our burdens down. Not so that we can all peer at each other’s stuff and console each other in a mutual pity party, but so that we can all come to the Cross, together, veneers peeled back, masks taken off. So that we can pray with one another honest, gut-wrenching prayers. Not polished prayers that contain cookie-cutter Christianese phrases. But prayers that aren’t distanced from each other’s pain, prayers that are just like the conversations we ought to be having all the time with the Lord. Prayers that truly press in to God’s mercies, pull at God’s heart, for Him to bring breakthrough in each of our lives.
Then restoration comes. Then healing begins.
After we took turns to share about how we were really doing, we prayed for each other. The songwriting night became a ministry night. The songs were just a bonus. The other bonus was this: at the end of the night, my friend said to me, “Don’t drain down physically. Let your Elisha take over. Worship is just surrender to our creator God. Not ministry and not music. This comes first. Not anything else. We must trade other things we worship with Him.”
I didn’t go looking for this tonight, but as I traded in my ashes, God gave me mercy.