by Linda Post Bushkofsky

There’s something so compelling about the Ash Wednesday liturgy. It begins with the extended con­fession of sins where we acknowledge our unfaithfulness, pride, hypocrisy, self-indulgence, indifference, and prejudice, to name but a few of the ways that we have broken our relationships with God and others. Most of us have learned ways to conceal a lot of these things, hiding them from others and, probably, more importantly, from ourselves. We’re good people, we tell ourselves; it’s not like we’ve committed any of those big sins, like murder or adultery. But Ash Wednesday, and all of Lent, calls us to take an honest look at ourselves, to bare our souls before our loving and forgiving God. It is in acknowledging our brokenness and failings that we find restoration and wholeness.

Martin Luther said that the life of a disciple is one of repentance. The 40 days of Lent can be a period of extended self-examination that leads to repentance, a period that allows us to realign our rela­tionship with God and others. We give up the excuses that keep us from praying or visiting the sick or feeding the hungry. We pause and wait to hear God speak­ing to us. We set aside our busyness that keeps us from encountering God in our daily lives. Adopting the Lenten disci­plines of prayer, almsgiving, and fasting, we encounter opportunities to renew our relationship with God and others. We become more intentional, preparing for the mystery of the Resurrection that will soon be celebrated.

It is a personal Lenten journey, this period of introspection. We live it, of course, in community. But what if our very community would engage in this period of examination and repentance?

What would it mean if your congre­gational unit of Women of the ELCA confessed its sins? Were there times in the last year when the group was pride­ful, indifferent, or hypocritical? Were there times when the unit failed to sup­port its relationships with one another? Was the unit filled with excuses (“We’re too old. There aren’t enough of us. We want it the way it used to be.”)? Did the unit fill its days with busyness (a bazaar, perhaps?) that kept the unit from focusing on the needs of the poor in the community? What is your unit hiding from itself? (Is it time to fold? Have you excluded younger women? Have you become too inwardly focused?)

Might your unit adopt the Lenten disciplines? Perhaps you could meet weekly. Perhaps you could devote an extended period for prayer. You could schedule prayer with a partner. You might commit to reading a book during Lent and holding weekly discussions. (Anne Lamott’s Help, Thanks, Wow comes to mind, or Becca Stevens’ Snake Oil.) In the spirit of almsgiving, your unit might work with a local shelter, offering in-kind services to meet particular needs.

May your unit acknowledge its fail­ings, and find restoration and wholeness as we approach the Resurrection.

Linda Post Bushkofsky is executive director of Women of the ELCA.

This article is excerpted from the March 2014 issue of Gather magazine. To read the full story or more like it, subscribe to Gather.