When Dust Becomes Extraordinary

March 1st marked the beginning of Lent. The season of sacrifice as we prepare our hearts to celebrate the ultimate sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. To be honest, this day has never meant anything to me. I’ve watched and listened as friends described their deprivations. I’ve wondered at the point. Because, truthfully, I’ve never understood. In all our depriving ourselves from the things we desire, what good does it do? To pay back a debt for the sacrifice Jesus made on our behalf? To pat ourselves on the back for being extra spiritual for 40 days? To pay penance for our sins?

But this year there is a deep longing in my soul. My soul feels starved right now. I know I don’t need to do anything to get closer to God. He already did the work to get close to me. But there’s a stirring in my soul I can’t ignore. So, on the first day of Lent I went to an Ash Wednesday service. I had no idea what to expect. I’m used to a loud and anonymous worship experience. This was somber and personal. I believe there is a time and place for both types of worship. I looked around at my fellow sojourners as they formed a line to receive the ashes. Fear prickled my spine as I walked toward the front. Would they know I’d never done this before? Would they see that I had no idea what I was doing? The Vicar rubbed the black ash onto my forehead in the shape of a cross, whispering words that I’d never heard but somehow already knew by heart.

From the dust you have come. And to the dust you will return.

The words made their way into the grooves of my soul, settling deep into the hidden places I’ve ignored. I sat down in the pew and wept. For what, I couldn’t say. They went through the liturgy, sang the hymns and followed the rituals. Not because the rituals brought God any closer. But because they remind us of how close God already is. And in the stillness I knew why I was weeping. Because I’m starving, and I had forgotten that I have access to the Bread of Life. I’ve been feeding my boredom with mindless hours on social media. Feeding my shame with thoughts of regret. Feeding my fear with my list of “what ifs.” Feeding my pride with a house full of stuff. And meanwhile, my soul cries out for the One who gave up everything for me because of his extraordinary love.

Lent is about quieting our souls so we can hear the voice of the One who adores us.

Lent is about slowing down our lives so we can sense the One who lives within us.

Lent is about opening our eyes so we can see the One who is working through us.

Lent is about opening our hands so we can take hold of what we already have.

Extraordinary love. Extraordinary forgiveness. Extraordinary courage. Extraordinary hope. All given to us in Christ.

Lent is about remembering the extraordinary goodness of God that we so often forget. It’s not about a debt we owe or a sacrifice required. It’s about letting go of our tight-fisted grip on what we think we deserve — both the excess we think we deserve from this world and the punishment we think we deserve from God. It’s about letting go of the things that fill our spaces, our minds, our hearts and our time.

Lent is about realizing that the extraordinary goodness and presence of God is ours for the taking. And it’s about realizing that this life is but a moment so what will we do with that moment?

From the dust we have come and to the dust we return.

The pastor read the story of Lazarus. A story that’s spoken to me a hundred different times in a hundred different ways. But this time I heard something new. Like the words spoken with the ashes on my forehead, they were words I’ve never heard yet already knew by heart. A man lying dead in the dust, awakened back to life. A man who slept in the dark, awakened to the extraordinary goodness of his God. And because of that extraordinary goodness, he could never again live an ordinary life. The Bible says people flocked to see him. They came in search of the man who would now count his moments because he knew the moments count. Because the world, like us, is hungry for more. Because the world, like us, is searching for extraordinary.

The world needs to see resurrected people.

From the dust we have come and to the dust we return.

But what will we do in the meantime? In this breath that we walk this earth? In this moment we get to live? How will we live? And will the way we live point hungry souls to the Bread of Life?

Lent is about waking up from a long sleep. It’s about rising from the dust and living fully alive and fully awake. Why? Because we’ve been resurrected from the dead. How? By the resurrection of Jesus. Will we live clutching tight to our fear and shame and pride? Will we live grasping fast to our security, our rights and our  pain? Will we grip onto death? Or will we open our hands to receive life?

I’m waking up. Like Lazarus, I hear Jesus calling my name.  And I’m realizing that the more I turn down the noise around me, it’s a lot easier to hear the Truth within me.

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