Yesterday was Ash Wednesday, and I had intended to write something about the theological significance or whatever. But, why reinvent the wheel? Google it. Instead, this post will probably be more personal than theological– which is typically the standard for me anyway. So, as I’ve been reflecting on life, here are my thoughts, and my feeble attempt to somehow connect them to the season of Lent and make some theological point.
Last week was a difficult one for me. It began with me having a 4000 word paper due Monday, a presentation on a full length novel I had not yet read (as of Sunday) for my Tuesday class, and a midterm of about six pages due on Wednesday. Plus the usual weekly assignments, meetings, classes, and other obligations that come with being a seminary student. (Remind me to ask you all later why I’m doing this again?). So by Wednesday, I was not only sleep deprived, but emotionally, spiritually, and mentally drained.
I got a (relatively) good night’s sleep Wednesday night, but a good night’s sleep can only fix so much. It can fix a lot, but it cannot fix everything. I woke up Thursday ready for a low-key day where I could relax and recharge. Which is not at all what happened.
I don’t know how everything happened, but at some point during the day I felt all the stress from the past few days wash over me. I began to feel overwhelmed, and with this overwhelm came intense emotion– mostly negative emotion. Something happened which made me feel like an outsider again; I had finally begun to feel like I was making progress, finding community, and building relationships. Then suddenly, I wasn’t again.
“‘I’m reminded how much on the outside I am. Everyone wants to know everyone and everyone is forming these relationships and don’t want to include me,” I texted my friend Thursday evening. I was almost in tears. I was sitting in class, and I felt like crying. But, then again, we were talking about the death of Christ, so I feel like I could have gotten away with it.
Eventually, these negative emotions got to a point where I started to focus on myself and wonder what was wrong with me. Maybe I’m a burden, maybe I’m hard to get along with, maybe I don’t deserve friendship. I couldn’t find community, and I felt that I couldn’t find God. I believed all the words people said to me on an intellectual level, but not on an emotional one. So I tried repeating them to myself over and over again– writing them down–until I could feel them. I reread words people had said to me, and I read new words they had sent me recently. I was trying everything I could to find God and have faith in myself.
Then, I started reflecting on Ash Wednesday and on this idea that I am dust and will return to dust. I started thinking about my humanity– how fragile and broken and weak and sinful I am. Which, for a while, made me feel even worse about myself. But then, I remembered that, yes, I am dirt. But God’s breath flows through me. God created me from dirt, and breathed God’s Spirit into me to give me life. God loves me so much that God decided to breath me into existence. God did this because God wants a relationship with me. There are many beautiful things about Lent, but one of them is that it is a time of remembering our own humanity in light of the death of Christ. But here’s the thing about the death of Christ– Christ came as a human too. Christ came as a human because He wanted to remind us that we– just as we are– are enough. We are enough. Our humanity matters. During Lent, we focus so much on the death and resurrection of Christ that we forget that His life matters just as much as His death.
His life matters because our life matters. Our life matters because God saw the dirt of the ground, formed it into a being, and breathed His own life-giving Spirit into it to bring us to life. And God came into our world, into our life, into our humanity, as a human because God loves us. And God sees our humanness– our brokenness, our frailty, our messiness– and God entered into it. God sees all of it and says “I love you.” Yeah, we are broken, we are mortal, we are sinful, we are messy. But God still shows up.
And that hit me one day in a way I cannot even begin to describe. My friends had reminded me that I matter, that I am not a burden, that I have value (whether I can see it or others can choose to see it), and it does not matter what others think about me because God loves me– and so do they. So I sat and took in their words, and took in God’s words, and took in the feeling that God loves me that much.
Coincidently, about this time two years ago , which was also about the time of Ash Wednesday, I was starting to truly feel the words of God and of others, and one of the same people who helped me feel them then helped remind me of them now. But, as I have been reflecting on Ash Wednesday, I felt God show up. I have felt like I have been wrapped in a giant hug ever since (although I would still very much like a real physical hug.). I felt God whisper to me that I am but dust, but that dust does not mean I do not have value or do not matter. The fact that God breathed God’s very own life and Spirit into me because of God’s love for me means I have value. So I am but dust, and I will return to dust. But until then, until that breath returns to its source and I again become one dwelling with God, I will live with God’s life-giving breath within me. I will live as if I matter, as if my humanity, my brokenness, my sin, my pain, and my sorrow, matter. And I will remember that sometimes life is overwhelming, and sometimes I do not feel like I deserve love or have been given love, but that the Creator of the Universe loved me and created me and breathed God’s Spirit into me. I do deserve love, and I am capable of having it, because I already have it. Lent reminds me that sometimes we have to wander through the desert to find God. It reminds me that Christ died for me. It reminds me that I am dust. And it reminds me that my humanity matters and that God loves me. God loves me so much, that God entered into every part of my humanity to save every part of my humanity, and to give life to this dust of the ground.