Ash Wednesday could possibly be my favorite day of the year. It is an odd preference, I know. Easter is lovely with all its joy and pageantry, but there is just something about Ash Wednesday that calls to my soul.
I don’t remember celebrating Ash Wednesday in my church growing up. Therefore, I clearly remember going to my first Ash Wednesday service while in seminary. I was all of 22 and out to save the world. I was young and full of idealistic expectations. Expectations of the world, the church, myself. Many days it was exciting, but many others it was exhausting. My internal demands and perfectionism were quickly wearing me down. Also, no matter how much I wanted to help others, it seemed the world’s need was always so much greater than my ability to contribute. All that I was pouring out was landing like tiny drops of rain in an endless desert.
It was with this struggle that I walked into my first Ash Wednesday service. So imagine my surprise when I went forward to the altar, knelt and heard these words, “from dust you came and to dust you shall return.” At first I was slapped in the face with the image of my mortality. But then I found myself heaving a huge sigh of relief. Yes, I was mortal. My life had not always been and would not always be. My mortality gave me certain limits. Not only the limit of a lifespan, but limits of my energy and ability.
Ash Wednesday showed me this saving the world business was not up to me after all. That job belonged to someone eternal. Eternal in time, eternal in energy,and eternal in ability to save.
These days I attend Ash Wednesday services with my two children. I come forward with these precious creatures that I have dedicated my life to rearing. Many days I try so hard to get it right by them. To love them, to comfort them, to teach them. But many more days I struggle. I struggle with my temper and my impatience. I struggle with my ability to save them from the problems in their lives. I struggle with doing enough to form them into the people I know they can be.
With this in mind, I can’t wait to go forward and hear those words again.
From Dust you came and to Dust you shall return.
I need to be reminded that I am nobody’s savior. I am limited in every arena of my life. I will never be a perfect mother to my children. I will never do enough for them. But in the end, that is not my job. There is another who is endless that they need to rely on.
For my days are numbered. Though I pray every day that I will outlive my children, I also feel guilty at the thought of leaving them behind. But maybe that is as it should be (though I confess to still praying for the leaving to be later rather than sooner). For there is one they should learn to depend on that is greater than me. In the end, my love will always be too small for them, my mind too weak. I pray that the sight of dust on my forehead will remind me to always lead my children to The One who’s love is endless and wisdom is beyond all my understanding.
I pray this Ash Wednesday that you are able to find grace in your limits and freedom in your mortality. Know that it is not all up to you. Take heart in the knowledge that there is a Savior greater than all of us mortals put together. This eternal one is the one who holds you, who loves you, whose dust covered hands you will return to at the end of your days.