To Dust You Shall Return

Even though I grew up in an evangelical home, in which our daily life was marked by the study and practice of God’s Word, we never observed the season of Lent. I don’t think this omission was intentional for my parents; it just wasn’t part of our denomination’s traditions.

This year I’ve determined to learn more.

Ash Wednesday, the first day of the Lenten fast, is a day of repentance that finds its origins in Job 42:6 and Genesis 3:19. During an Ash Wednesday service, the priest will smear ash on the forehead in a shape of the cross (or sprinkle them over one’s head) and say to the person, “Remember, mortal, that from dust you were made, and to dust you shall return.”

This particular reminder of our mortality—though not mandated by the Church—is a valuable exercise to bring perspective to our daily lives. Remembering that someday we will die encourages appreciation and gratitude for every day that we draw breath. Additionally, it motivates us to acknowledge our desperate need for a Savior due to our fallenness, our eternal future (if not for Christ), and our bent toward sin.

As with any tradition, this practice may seem hollow to some, and indeed it may have little significance for those who have lost sight of its original intent. But whether you are like me—discovering anew the depth of significance behind this practice—or have received the mark of the cross on your forehead for as long as you can remember: we need not neglect the profound meaning of this act, or the impact it may have on our lives.

Most of us are under a perpetual time crunch: there’s never enough time in a given day to get our business done. And no matter our intentions about tomorrow or next week or next year, our time with the Lord easily gets edged out by the clamor of the immediate.

In addition to our busyness, sometimes our faith is at issue: we simply don’t believe that prayer works, therefore we don’t prioritize it. For many of us (if we are honest) prayer and time with the Lord seem to be the last places we go, when they should be the first places.

I am choosing this year to give up the things that may hinder my relationship with the Lord. For my part, I need to become more intentional in the practice of my Faith, and grow in my appreciation for all that Christ has done for me. That’s what Ash Wednesday, and the Lenten season, offer to me.

Whether or not you received a cross of ashes on your forehead last week, what might your dust-nature be reminding you of this day?

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