“Dust to dust; ashes to ashes.” These words are traditionally spoken at the start of Lent, reminding us of our mortality. The organic material that makes up our bodies ill one day return to dust, to ashes. We will one day die.
What value can there be of “rubbing our noses” in this fact?
Here is a great irony: generally speaking, we human beings are easily bored. In the waiting rooms of most doctors’ offices, you will find a television, as well as an array of magazines. The assumption is that should we have to sit there for any length of time, we would suffer the curse of boredom. It is as though life itself were inherently tedious, and constant entertainment and distraction is required to save us from this fact.
Imagine you’ve been sitting in a doctor’s office, your attention jumping from the TV monitor to various magazines, annoyed that you have to be there. You finally get to see your doctor for what you assume will be a routine consultation, only to be stunned by the news that your test results reveal you have a terminal illness. You have only a couple of months to live.
You leave your doctor’s office having just received what would generally be considered the worst possible news. And yet, here’s where the irony comes in: suddenly, life isn’t boring. There is no need to divert your attention with a captivating TV program. Every moment is precious.
The truth of the matter is that every one of us is terminal. Whether the time left is three days or thirty years is ultimately inconsequential; the time left in this life will soon be over. Every moment truly is precious. It is only the self-deception we succeed in perpetrating about our mortality that keeps us from recognizing this essential preciousness.
If it doesn’t strike you as too morbid, try this little thought exercise. Imagine that this really was the day of your death. Tell yourself: “this is the last time I will taste this food, see my bedroom, see this person I’ve seen so many times before.” How does this change what you see?
Lord Jesus, in Lent we remember how when you made your way to Jerusalem, you were intensely aware that your life on earth was coming to an end. Your disciples tried to pretend it wasn’t so. As we would walk with you this Lent, help us be mindful each day of the preciousness of all we have been given. Amen.