We celebrate Ash Wednesday and Valentine's Day just a few days apart this year. In some ways, it seems like a strange juxtaposition.
Ash Wednesday reminds us that we will all die. Its ashes are also a symbol of the grief and struggles of life, particularly those griefs that we have caused for ourselves and others through our own actions. It's a somber celebration that gives us an opportunity for repentance and reflection.
Valentine's Day is all about love. While most celebrations of the day do tend to focus more on romantic love (and often highly sentimentalized versions of that), this day is a reminder that love is something we all long for. It's what connects us.
As strange as this pairing may seem on the surface, they fit together well when looked at from a kintsugi perspective.
Learning self-love in the ashes
In the midst of greatest brokenness in my life, it often felt like the life that I had known had burned to the ground leaving me standing in a wasteland of ashes.
The sense of grief and loss were intense, but it was also a lonely, isolating experience. It wasn't that there weren't others around, but there were few who could deal with the depths of my pain.
This experience brought me face-to-face with my own desperate need for love as it burned away all of my usual distractions. In the resulting loneliness, there was no longer anywhere to hide.
I was forced to look that need right in the eye and recognize the way that my vain attempts to fill that need had led to many of the poor choices that had created the fire to begin with.
Seeing the sad, needy little girl longing for love in the midst of the mess melted my own heart with self-compassion. With time and intention, this compassion grew into a self-love that cracked open the wall that my self-hatred and erected around my heart to allow me to better accept love from others (including the Divine).
My choices slowly became less and less dictated by a desperate need for love and became healthier and more loving (to myself and to others).
Learning self-love and the positive changes that has had on my life has been one of the most valuable pieces of kintsugi gold that has come out of my healing from that experience.
Loving others in the ashes
At the same time as I was learning self-love, I was also seeing more and more clearly just how much we are all alike. We all die. We all face grief and loss and ashes in our lives. We all long for love and sometimes make poor choices in our quest for it.
My compassion for others who are suffering has been expanded by my own experience of brokenness. I remember how lonely it felt to stand in that wasteland of grief and ashes, and I am readily moved with love and compassion for others I see standing in that same place.
It is easier for me now to be present to those who are seasons of brokenness and ashes in a compassionate way because I have experienced it for myself.
Even when their circumstances are very different from my own, there is a commonality in grief and in brokenness that goes beyond the details. This melts away so much of my old tendencies toward judgment and allows compassion to flow in new ways.
I find myself more connected and open to others these days because of this.
This too is kintsugi gold that has come out of my healing from the season of brokenness that I experienced.
As I increasingly saw the sad, needy little girl at the heart of my own poor choices and bad behavior, it became easier to forgive myself for the ways that I had contributed to my own broken situation, for the many ways that I had not treated others the ways I would have like to in the midst of it all, and for not being the person I want to be.
Laying down that weight of self-judgment and condemnation through the slow process of learning forgiveness has removed so much weight that I didn't even know I was carrying around.
At the same time, I began to see the same sad, needy child in others poor choices and bad behavior—even when that bad behavior was aimed in my direction.
Recognizing this dynamic as it is happening reduces the likelihood that I will take that behavior personally and take offense to begin with. But even when I do, it's also so much easier to forgive that bad behavior because I see the wounded, hurting child behind it.
That doesn't mean that I don't do what may be needed to protect myself from bad behavior of others, but it does mean that I spend less time and energy carrying around the burden of offense and judgment.
This too is gold from the brokenness.
Love and ashes
Perhaps love and ashes are not as separated as we often think.
Recognizing our joint sharing in the ashes of life spurs our hearts toward love of ourselves and others as we see through eyes of compassion.
But choosing to lean into compassion as a response is a choice—a choice that we need to make over and over again throughout our own healing process and beyond.
In the end, love and ashes connect us more than all the things that seem to separate us, if only we allow ourselves to see it.
Questions to ponder
How has your experience with brokenness and ashes affected your compassion for yourself and for others?
How does seeing poor choices and bad behavior (of self and others) as stemming from pain and the longing for love change your thoughts about forgiveness (of self and others)?
How can you use your own experiences of ashes to intentionally open yourself more to love? What might that look like?