Tom hated Lent, all of it. But he hated Ash Wednesday the most. He’d start a petition every year, hoping that gathering enough signatures would get his church to cancel its participation in the tradition. He’d stand up in the middle of worship to announce his displeasure. “It’s not biblical!” he would often conclude.
For the longest time, I didn’t understand why he objected with such vigor. He was a very disciplined person. He was prayerful. He was intentional in his faith practices. All seemed like reasons why he’d feel at home in a season like Lent — the purpose of which is to be disciplined and prayerful and intentional.
One day, we were talking about families. About parents. And Tom, very bravely said “My family doesn’t think much of me. My mom won’t talk to me anymore because I lived with someone before we were married. She says I’m ‘filthy.’ And I can’t seem to please my dad. I’ve never been able to meet his expectations. He says I’m ‘dirt.’”
It was then that I understood. Faith was the place where he’d found the love that was missing in his life. Yet here was his faith telling him — as he saw it anyway — the same thing his parents did: that he didn’t matter, that he was unacceptable, that he was dirt. The idea that dirt is necessary — beautiful even — had been conditioned out of him.
The judgements of his parents had taken from him the fearful-yet-wonderful idea that we are finite creatures loved by an infinite God. Lent should be a season which tempers us for living lives pulled by both of those extremes: the temporary and the forever. And it should be a time when we can also be grateful for the matter from which we come. Dirt is earth. It is home. It is what feeds us, and shelters us. Dirt is how we know embrace. It is what gives us life. We aren’t machines. We’re people. We’re created. We’re dirt. And if God can do all that with dirt in the here and now, there is reason to have great hope in what the Holy can make of it in the eternal and forever.
— Matthew Johnson