I have a theory that children and funerals tend to keep one humble—or at least set the stage for such to take place. Raising human beings and the prospect of dying have an abrupt way of reminding us that we’re not really in control. In the case of the former, parents have the responsibility of establishing healthy parameters for our children so that they might grow into healthy adults. Thus for a time, it is our parental duty to assert control within the boundaries of family without snuffing out the light of each child’s God-given personality and giftedness. Not an easy task (especially since we cannot fix people) but a task we must take seriously. We only have a short window of opportunity for the stewardship of parenting.
Similarly, we only have life in these expiring bodies for a short while. Funerals remind us of the stark reality that though everything in our culture would have us believe that life as we seize it, consume it, and accumulate it will last forever… it won’t. The truth is that life as our media-market-driven culture has defined it is essentially an illusion.
Holy Scripture calls us to recover the lost art of humility as a means of embracing our humanity during Lent. How? By not believing the lies our culture is selling us and embracing the truth that our lives are only a vapor… that we came from dust and we will return to dust.
James wrote: “What is your life? For you are mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes” (4:14).
The positive thinking preacher of Ecclesiastes wrote: “For the fate of humans and the fate of animals is the same; as one dies so dies the other. They all have the same breath, and humans have no advantage over the animals; for all is vanity. All go to one place; all are from the dust, and all turn to dust again” (3:19-20).
Being acutely aware of our frailty is the gift of Ash Wednesday and the season of Lent. It offers the possibility of being jarred awake from the lies and illusions around us (and within us) and living life fully by recovering a biblical dose of humility. That’s how we can survive Lent and thrive into the future God has waiting for us… as long as God gives us breath!