Ashes to ashes, dust to dust

February 25, 2009 | Lent

Ash Wednesday did not get off the best start this morning. For whatever reason, the bus never picked up Noah and Olivia for school, so I had to dash out to get them there in time and still get home and get ready for the school Mass less than 30 minutes later. Of course there was school bus traffic at that hour, and what should have taken a total of 10 minutes took much longer. I returned home with just enough time to finish getting ready and jump right back in the car. I was frazzled and frustrated and grumbling something along the lines of “great way to begin Lent.”

I’m easily frustrated, very impatient, and as I moaned and groaned this morning it occurred to me that the morning’s annoyances were really not that big of a deal. And yet I was willing to allow it to “ruin” my Ash Wednesday and cast a shadow over the Lenten season before it even had a chance to begin. How ridiculous is that? Thankfully, I realized in that moment that I needed to refocus my attention on the spiritual significance of the day and not worry so much about the minor details. That, for me, would be the greatest challenge this Lent — to let go of the whining and complaining about the “small stuff,” to remember how blessed I am even when the bus goes missing or the computer printer is holding one of my jobs hostage inside or the dinner is burning. That’s much bigger sacrifice for me than giving up sweets and snacking in between meals, which is my usual thing.

At Mass, as I approached the front of church for my ashes, I was hoping, as I always do, that I would receive mine with the traditional line: “Remember, man, that you are dust and to dust you shall return.” I just love that reminder. But instead, as my pastor marked my forehead and said, “Turn away from sin and be faithful to the Gospel,” I knew that that was precisely what I needed to hear this morning. My mortality is not really an issue for me, not something I fear or struggle with. Sin, however, is another story. And so, as I walked back to my seat and pondered those words, I wrestled with the idea that in addition to my usual Lenten sacrifices, I really do need to make a concerted effort to give up some of my mega-frustration with things that aren’t worth the angst and effort. I don’t have any illusions that I can shed myself of that bad habit even in 40 days, but being aware of it in the first place in a good starting point, I think.

I hope your Ash Wednesday is off to a good start, even if you hit traffic on your commute or the alarm didn’t go off or you spilled something on your shirt at breakfast. Because this day, this season, isn’t about everything going according to plan. It is about surrendering to God’s plan and giving up our desire to be in control.

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