I Wish Ashes Weren't So Messy

By Matt Sapp

By Matt Sapp

I wish ashes weren’t so messy. When you're getting ready for an Ash Wednesday service, they can get everywhere. Once you touch them, you can’t touch anything else until you’ve washed them off. And that’s not always easy, either. It can take some real scrubbing.

I wish Lent wasn’t so long. Forty days is a long time. And that doesn’t even include the Sundays! I spent most of my life thinking there were ONLY forty days between Ash Wednesday and Easter. Turns out there’s forty-six. Even if you don’t “give up” anything for Lent, forty-six days is an awful long time to spend looking forward to Easter.

And I wish Lent wasn’t such a downer. Why do we have to talk so much about death and dying this time of year at church? Isn’t church supposed to be hopeful and cheery and bright? There’s enough of the other stuff in the rest of my life. Why do we have to focus so much on ashes and dust and dirt and thorns and crosses draped in purple and black? Why does everything have to seem so heavy?  Isn't spring just around the corner?

I wish life wasn’t so messy. It seems like even the smallest of mistakes can take over my whole life. The tiniest of errors can change my whole attitude until it grows into a dark cloud hanging over me. And it’s not just my mistakes, either. It’s what other people do, too. It seems like one negative thing—once it’s touched me—well, I can’t seem to do anything else until I figure out how to move on from it. And, let me tell you, it’s not always easy to move on from some of the situations I find myself in! It can take some real scrubbing.

I wish the uncertain periods in life weren’t so long--the periods where I’m anxious or afraid or lonely or depressed. I always knew that periods of struggle and doubt and real worry and pain were a big part of my life, but now that I think about it, they take up more of me than I would ever have guessed at first. Even if there’s no overwhelming sense of something wrong in my life, my whole life seems like an awful long time to spend looking forward to something better.

I wish the messiness and waiting in life wasn’t such a downer. Why do I have to spend so much time dealing with—or being the punching bag for—other people’s problems?  And why do I spend so much time dealing with problems of my own? Isn’t life supposed to be hopeful and cheery and bright? Why does it seem like I’m always replaying the heavy stuff? Why can’t I seem to dwell on the positive a little more? Is it summer yet?!?!

So, what if there were a way to clean up the messiness? What if there were a way to live our lives in the present so that we're happy with the way things are right now? What if there was enough Good News in our lives—and in our world—to wash our blues away?

I guess what I'm trying to say is, "What if Easter is real?" What if resurrection is possible? What if new life is available now? And what if it’s all worth a few days—or even forty-six days—of preparation to grab hold of it?

But here's the rub. What if the preparation for resurrection requires a certain kind of dying? 

A dying to self and selfishness and self-directedness to make room for something new?

Would we still be willing to give it a shot? I wonder.

And I wish ashes weren’t so messy.