Ash Wednesday arrives just as we need it

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Photo: Shutterstock
Photo: Shutterstock

“Remember that you are are dust and to dust you shall return.”

These are exactly the words I needed to hear this week.

Lent began early this year, but somehow whenever Ash Wednesday comes along it always seems to meet us when we most need it.

The first couple of weeks of school have been a bumpy ride for our family, with adjustment difficulties for some of us combined with extra time-consuming commitments.

Throw in half of us getting sick and the resulting restless nights and I, at least, had a situation where I quickly fell into the trap Jesus has warned us against, of being almost completely consumed by the worries and cares of this world.

I fretted over which Ash Wednesday service to attend – one son’s new school or the other son’s new school? Either way I’d miss one and fail one of the children again.

I was annoyed that I didn’t have the foresight to see the clash coming and warn them much sooner that I wouldn’t be able to go to both. A better mother would have, I told myself.

Because I was seeing each day’s parcel of activity through the lens of physical and mental fatigue, each problem that came up (and there were a few) looked less like what it was – a temporary difficulty to be resolved – and more like another accusation of failure on my part because it had even existed in the first place.

It helps when I’m tempted towards self-recrimination, when everything is not going smoothly, to remember that this is a temptation, at most, and, at the very least, a distraction.

Pope Francis reminds us that another name for the devil is ‘the accuser’. When I’m spending valuable time and energy accusing myself (or anyone else) because this or that is not going as I would like, who am I allowing to interfere with my mental space?

How refreshing instead is St Paul’s advice to, in every circumstance: “Rejoice always, pray continually, and in all things give thanks to God, because this is what God expects you to do in Christ Jesus.”

And to that the Church reminds us now that that we are dust and to dust we shall return. Or, in other words, to my ears right now: “Be who I made you to be and stop trying to be a superhero.”

Also, it is so freeing at times to lift our sights from the big and small trials that terrorise us daily and – reminded that these mean nothing in comparison with the ultimate trial of death – get a glimpse beyond them all to the fullness of life. Which is a total gift.

Every single thing looks so different through the lens of eternity!

For instance, it’s much easier to notice all the ways God has provided for us each day, and be grateful for them.

The life of a Christian trying to live discipleship is fairly crammed with joyful and enjoyable moments, big and small. It also has pain, suffering, and sorrow over our own sins and suffering because of the effect of others’ sins on us.

But all of this can be useful. The fact that I have five children to feel torn between sometimes is stressful, but that is way overridden by the precious gifts they are. God will use the stress as well as the gratitude if I turn immediately to offer it all to Him, instead of letting them fester with me. And they can only fester if they stay with me.

The start of Lent reminds me that the best attitude I can bring to anything, failure or success, is a loving detachment. Lent is the time to feel more intensely the need to let go of whatever I want that isn’t what God wants for me at this present moment.

So, yes, remember I am only dust, though dust that is infinitely loved by God, and thank God for that. I don’t need to pay attention to the accuser who would have me try to be equal to the god which goes by the name ‘Super Mum’ or the more subtle, ‘A Better Mum’.