Rev Steve Jones, rector of Littleham, Holy Trinity and Lympstone writes for the Journal

I wonder if you happened to see anyone walking around on Wednesday 17th February with a black cross marked on their forehead.

If you did, it is highly likely that they were a Christian, and that they had been to an Ash Wednesday service. Ash Wednesday, for the Christian Church, signals entry into a spiritual season known as Lent.

Lent is a 40-day period running up to Easter Sunday during which Christians spend time reflecting upon areas of their lives in which they may have failed to live as God has planned.

Christianity teaches that this hurts both God and those around us. The black ash cross on the forehead signifies a personal sense of mourning over thinking, speaking, and acting in a way that we wish we had not.

Human beings tend to wrestle with that kind of thing because we have a conscience, which perennially reminds us what is right and what is wrong. Somehow, inside of us all, we know that our nascent aspiration to live as kindly and compassionately as we can is a good one.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t always do what I know to be right. I try hard to do the right thing, but there are times when I mess up and unintentionally hurt people.

I experience times when I am not compassionate and caring, when I most certainly should have been. There are times when I should have quickly forgiven a wrongdoing, and the memory of it has lingered long after I should have let it and the person go in peace.

There are times when I have made myself the centre of my own little universe and have just expected others to adjust themselves to my needs and my agenda.

I understand the fact that none of us is going to be able to live perfectly in this life, however, most of the time I want to be making the right choices about how I think, act, and treat people. I would like the effect of a connection with me to be positive for the people that I meet.

If you are a person like me who feels that they are sometimes messing up, then Lent can be an extremely helpful moment of pause in the busy annual cycle of life. In Lent we can just stop and take an inventory of how we are doing personally, and how our lives might be impacting the journey of those around us.

There are two things, particularly, that I value about the season of Lent. Firstly, Lent is usually the one time in the year when I get to stop and really look at myself.

I don’t mean looking at my career goals, or the state of my finances, but looking at myself and asking whether I am living well. By that I mean, am I living well as a whole person, and as part of the society in which I live? Is my life generally stabilising through maturity, and am I increasingly contributing to the well-being of those around me? If I am not, Lent gives me the chance to recalibrate myself.

If I am on the wrong heading, then in the still water generously encouraged by Lent, I can chart a new course.

Secondly, Lent allows me to reset my relationship with God and with others. I am reminded afresh that I am not in a performance-based relationship with God.

As I see and acknowledge my areas of weakness and failure, God is not standing there before me with a clipboard and a stern expression, but rather with arms open wide in loving welcome.

Resetting my relationships with others usually involves an apology, more often than not with me doing the offering.

Wherever you are in life, can I encourage you to take at least a moment to stop, look in the mirror, and ask, ‘How are you doing?’