Lent carries a paradox, or at the very least, a challenge.
The word itself, derived through a history of languages and derivations may have originally meant "to lengthen," referring to the arrival or spring in the northern hemisphere. Yet, as a season in the church, Lent is a countdown to Good Friday, to a death. To further challenge us, Lent begins with ashes and a reminder of our coming death. As the world's day light increases, our light begins to fade.
Tom Oord writes in The Uncontrolling Love of God, that, "When creatures cooperate with their Creator, shalom may unfurl in extraordinary ways" (Oord, 2015, Kindle 2808). Cooperation means following the way of grace. Following the way of grace leans on God and God's provision. Walking in the path God lays down has no guarantee of painlessness. We just walk by faith.
Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return
Lent acknowledges the destination of this journey. One way or another, death won't be escaped. Trying to escape it can become an anxiety producing, destruction laden, and mind numbing escapade. Probably bringing death closer rather than keeping it at a distance.
The imposition of ashes beginning Lent brings us up close and personal to death. Traditionally, quoting from Genesis 3:19, the officiant says, "Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return."
Just this morning I was warmed by the sight of the morning sun. Noticing that it crept above the trees and houses and began to reflect sunshine into the windows. Just as the days are lengthening and the signs of spring are emerging, we begin to think of life, newness, buds, blooms, and warmth. But as the days are lengthening, they are also passing by. Just as athletes speak of "leaving it all out on the field" so too is life. We have this glorious creation all around us and there's no reason to hold onto our lives as if they were an investment that if buried and left untouched will grow with time. It won't.
The Lenten reminder of our own end, the ashen reminder of our origin from dust and ashes, and the lengthening days of spring remind us less of the death awaiting us, but of the life we are we are pouring out for others. Be spent.