pink pajamas: an ash wednesday sermon
I was depressed in the fall and winter of 2001. There was anxiety too. And as with all depression and anxiety, it felt unbearable. But it felt especially so because I was only 23. My childhood had been happy and fairly uneventful, and I did not yet know from experience about the incredible strength of God and of my community that would get me through. I did not yet know from experience about the incredible strength in me, either. Sometimes the first big obstacle in life is the scariest.
It was scary for my husband too. And so, as I was moping around the house, pondering dropping out of divinity school, Andy coaxed me into the car and then to the mall. The MALL! Home of temporarily relief from all sorts of ailments!
He led me into a store where they sold all manor of sleepwear, and together, we settled upon a pretty, pink, plaid, soft, flannel, pair of pajamas. They were made in the style of those my Dad used to wear… they buttoned down the front and had a drawstring at the waist, but they were feminine too. They fit just right.
And so, I did all the rest of my moping around in the months that followed, in those pretty pink pajamas. They didn’t fix anything. I was still depressed and anxious. And I did drop out of divinity school, for a time. But those pajamas meant that my pain and struggling were acknowledged by the one who waded through it all with me. Sometimes feelings don’t seem real until another person steps inside them too, for a moment. Only then can any sort of healing start to take hold.
This kind of work doesn’t feel productive. We can give comfort, but we cannot fix. This kind of work is not glamorous. We will leave this place tonight with ashes smudged on our foreheads. We will be wearing, on the outside, all that threatens to undo us. But this kind of work is powerful. We will be given the chance to stare headlong into each others’ darkness and acknowledge that it is there. It is our job, as faithful people, not to look away from the ashes. We are not healers, you and I. But God has given us the incredible privilege of being able to truly see each other, to lay the groundwork.
You should know that I packed up those pink pajamas and took them with me to Nashville, when Andy and I decided that it was time for me to finish divinity school. I wore them in the company of great theologians, as I poured over their works in my newly rented apartment. Then a few years later, thanks to the generous drawstring at the waist, I wore them during my first pregnancy. After [the monkey] was born, the button down top was good for nursing. Plus, those pajamas were incredibly soft by then. Too soft, in fact. Threadbare. I took the strong parts, cut them into strips, and sewed them into my first quilt. My mother helped me. Andy and I take the quilt on picnics with the kids now.
Not all of life is darkness. It’s not all sunny picnics either. The two are wedded together always. This is why we observe church seasons and holy days. So that all within five months’ time, we are:
celebrating new life with manger scenes,
following the hopeful star of epiphany,
experiencing temptation with the grown-up Jesus,
grieving death in the shadow of a gruesome cross,
rolling away rocks to reveal empty tombs,
and on and on.
These rituals and narratives help us to embrace the complex marriage of darkness and light. But even they do not tell the whole story. We all have our own wild beasts that threaten to undo us. We all wander in the wilderness. We all encounter angels. We simply gather here, in the mean time, to truly see each other. To affirm that all of it is real.
Something happens to us when we do this.
Together we make room for God.