Ash Wednesday: all projects have a deadline

Deadlines and due dates are an inescapable part of being a student. There is always an upcoming test on this day. There is forever an essay due on that day. When I was a student I lived deadline to deadline. I would check my calendar regularly in order to remind myself of what exam I should be studying for or which project I should be working on. Though deadlines could add stress to my life, in hindsight they helped me. Due dates ensured that I actually worker hard to learn new material and skills. Left to myself, I tend to procrastinate and fill my time doing things that that are easier and more enjoyable. Due dates were a blessing because they gave me incentive to work on something more difficult. In the end, this helped me to learn and become better.
Ash Wednesday plays the same role in our life as followers of Jesus as deadlines do in the lives of students. One of two phrases can be said when ashes are put on our heads:
  1. Repent and believe in the Gospel.
  2. Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return.
As Christians, we all students. The first phrase, "repent and believe in the Gospel", reminds us that we are working on a project of vital importance: our very self. We are trying to improve ourselves by changing the way we think and act so that we think and act more like Jesus. Our project is to transform ourselves to become more like Christ.  The second phrase, "remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return", makes us aware that this project is not something that is open-ended. It has a set due date: the day that we die. There are no extensions; after we die we can no longer repent. Though thinking about our future death can seem a little depressing, it should ultimately help us to live better in the present. Just as remembering the date of an exam urges us to study harder, remembering that we will one day die should motivate us to make changes in our life.

Ash Wednesday is a gift. We remember that we are one year closer to the due date of our greatest assignment and asses how we are doing on it. Often we give up things for lent: chocolate, social media or television. This can be a very helpful practice. In addition to this, I suggest we do something practical. Our lives are full of different relationships, with God, family, friends and coworkers. Today look at your life and see if there is one relationship that you would like to improve. Perhaps you would like to spend more time with Jesus in prayer. Maybe you want to be more attentive and a better listener for your spouse. Or perhaps you want to be more forgiving and patient with a coworker or classmate. Choose one relationship and focus on improving it this lent. Let this be our homework that will help us fulfill our most important project: becoming more like Jesus. Remember, we do not have forever. Each year the deadline to complete this project draws closer.