The words “remember you are dust” came across my screen the other day when someone commented on it being close to the start of Lent on Ash Wednesday. I am reminded that on Ash Wednesday, as the mark of the ashes is put on our foreheads, someone will say “remember you are dust.” I have to say, I don’t love thinking of myself this way. Dust? Seriously? I can hear all the therapists and counselors I have known protesting that this is no way to address ourselves! I can feel the resistance in myself at the idea that I am nothing more than dust. This really does not exactly inspire me! In fact, it strikes me as dismal. My self-image does not generally include thinking of myself as dust. What is going on here? Why do we say this as we enter Lent? Why is this a good idea?
But, when I reflect further, I can see that it is only as God, the creator, breathes life into me as a creature and confers on me the capacity to bear his image, that I have my worth. He gives me worth. He takes dust and turns it into something. It is in him, only, that I live and move and have my being, because he is the King and Lord of all.
But still, why is it good to recall that I am but dust? I believe it is so that we can be invited do a deep dive into the reality that everything exists because of God and belongs to God and the other reality that there is a lot of distance between God’s shalom [the wholeness and completeness, the inner and outer peace and fullness that God intends for all of life] and my life that I am living now. Again, it is God’s generosity that makes my life possible and gives me worth. But it is also true that even having been the recipients of all this generosity, we resist and turn away from God, looking elsewhere for help and meaning. Possibly the saddest sentence in all of scripture occurs in the first chapter of John’s gospel: He came to his own, but his own did not receive him. His own did not receive him! After the spectacular event of the incarnation, the willingness of Jesus to “leave his throne in heaven” and become a babe in a womb, be born into sub-standard circumstances and to live within all the limitations of being human to reach us and then to be rejected…this is tragic.
John does go on to say that some did receive him and did believe, but the reality is that we, too are guilty of rejecting him, a thousand times in a day. Consider the distance between our daily behavior and some of the teachings of Jesus:
- The first shall be last and the last shall be first
- Blessed are you when men persecute you for my name’s sake
- Love your enemies
- Do not worry or be anxious
How close are we to living in this way, with these attitudes in our hearts? They are often so difficult for us. The beautiful shalom of God is not the whole of our reality, because we are broken by our sin. Our sin is real. Our sinful state is tragic.
Lent is the opposite of taking these things lightly, of blowing past them as if they don’t matter that much. It is a chance to pause and to consider how much we have been given in Christ and how much we need to deepen our humility and remorse over our brokenness and distance from him in our lives.
The invitation of Lent is to grieve. It is to enter the sadness of the loss of God’s beautiful shalom that was meant for the world to live into fully and to enjoy. It is to sit in the sorrow of what has been lost and broken through sin. It is a time to lament, to slow down and see, to ponder.
And then we can turn and be restored. Because, thanks be to God, we who began as dust have now been lifted up into our identities in Christ. We bear the image of God. We are loved. Thanks be to our God, who has done all things well! He is our hope, our only hope, but our sure and blessed hope. And so we hope in him.
As we remember that we are dust, we also remember that Jesus is King and Lord of all and we are his redeemed. Always there is gladness at the end as we recall who we are and who we follow.
About the author:
Carrie Bare is married to a pastor and mother of two grown sons. Though she is permanently based in Spokane, Washington, she is currently dividing her time between Spokane and Boulder. Carrie has been with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship since 1975, currently serving as a spiritual director, while also serving on the Faculty Ministry Team and as chaplain to the national leadership team for Grad Student and Faculty Ministry in Inter Varsity. She has always loved reading, especially fiction.