Lent begins this week — the spiritual gift of the Church that is a season of paring away the things that cloud our souls in order to see more clearly how much God loves us. We enter into the season by raising our heads to the marking of ashes.
Remember, man, that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.
Remember that we are but crumbled matter. We are broken and fragile. We are ruined. We have struggled and sinned and fallen and pulled others down with us. We are each our own mess. Dust. We are dust.
But out of dust He formed us, and He breathed life into us. He gave us shape, and He shaped our souls. The Creator literally loved the dust of us into being. He did it the first day we first became alive, and He has done it every single day since then.
Lent brings us face to face with the grim reality of our sin. It brings into sharp focus all the contours of the ruins of our life. We can deny the reality of Lent. We can live the whole season without letting it genuinely, tangibly touch us. We can go through the motions without letting the liturgy change us.
Or we can let it sink deep into our being. We can let the dust be stirred and notice how we are both: We are sinners, and we are saved. We are fallen, and we are loved. At the beginning of Lent, we can be distracted by “what we’re giving up.” The question is asked and plans are made, and it all sounds like a revision of New Year’s resolutions. Don’t be limited by what you’re giving up; don’t stop at the sacrifice. The real question isn’t what we’re giving up; it’s “how did I wander away from God, and how do I get back?” The essence of Lent is that we are the prodigal (or maybe we are his brother), and we both need the forgiving Father.
Give up whatever is blocking the path home. Give up the voice in your head that says you are beyond help. Give up the notion that you have to earn your way home. You don’t. Just return to the Father. He loved you from the time you were dust. He still loves you today, despite your dirt.
Lent is about letting the Creator make us new. If we embrace Lent and we live it fully, we see that we are ruined. We count our sins, and we remind ourselves again that without Him, we mess up. An entire season of repentance gives us time to take a complete inventory of the dark places in our souls.
Perhaps more importantly, an entire season of repentance doesn’t leave us in a place of self-recrimination. Instead, it gives us ample time to see both how wrecked we are and how much God loves us anyway. The liturgy of the season — listen to it — draws us into the everlasting truth that God loves us even in our dirtiest, dustiest state. He loves us deeply and wholly just as we are.
He love us there, but He doesn’t leave us there. He picks us up, dusts us off, and breathes into us a new life.