Growing up as a Methobaptist in a predominantly Catholic part of the country, I knew what Lent was - it was the time right after Mardi Gras. From my point of view back then, Lent and its observance were an old-timey kind of thing. We still celebrated Mardi Gras (and got days off from school to celebrate it), but talk about Lent and its season of abstinence and self-denial were quaint customs we had moved beyond as good Protestant.
As an adult, I started what would become my own journey of faith in a Presbyterian congregation - one that was Reformed (note the capital R) and didn't observe Lent or any other seasons of the church that came too close to smelling like liturgy. Yet the more I journeyed, the most I was drawn to Lent and the other rhythms of the church. Despite my church's lack of observance of Lent, I commemorated it in my own way - giving up chocolate one year (that Lent was during a pregnancy, too - I don't recommend trying to give up chocolate while pregnant). Two years ago, I had what I would consider my most meaningful and transformational Lent. I gave up negative self talk. For forty days, every time I would catch myself being unkind, harsh or overly critical, I would put a stop to it. It wasn't an easy task - this was a pattern years (decades?) in the making - but it did help. If nothing else, it heightened my awareness of how often I am prone to speak negatively to myself. And I think that, by and large, the changes stuck. I wouldn't say I never engage in negative self-talk anymore, but I have come to better recognize the sneering tone of voice and the biting way of thinking for the poison that they are.
This is not the way I typically see Lent approached - giving up an internal habit that no one else sees or benefits from. Lent can sometimes be showy: "Our family is giving up television, movies, computer time, the Wii and fiction. What about you?" or wear an air of self-flagellation: "For Lent, I am going to run three miles every day... before dawn." As Lent approached this year, I wanted to be intentional about how I approached this season now that I am in a denomination that observes the rhythm of the liturgical year - and about how I introduced it to my daughters. I started with one on one conversations with A and B, where I shared some of my own Lenten journeys. I encouraged them to think about what they might want to put off (give up) or take on (adopt as a spiritual practice).
After letting these thoughts sit on their hearts for a few days, I found a lovely book at the library that explained Lent and how it prepares our hearts for Easter. As I read it to the girls, I told them my own plans for Lent. Actually, my plans for Lent are less mine than God's. I am giving up caffeine and adopting the practice of making time to collage a little every day. The former feels terrifying. I'm not sure how 40 days without caffeine will go. My daughters were equally concerned when I told them. There was a collective gasp at the dinner table, followed by girls speaking over one another hurriedly:
"But what about your headaches?" A & B said in unison.I'm not particularly excited about giving up caffeine. I've been working on tapering myself down and have been caffeine free for a few days now. I spent most of Sunday in bed with a horrible headache - either sleeping or laying in a dark room. But I really felt a pull to give up caffeine and, in fact, felt like God just wouldn't let this idea drop until I acquiesced. It was only after I agreed to fast from caffeine that the idea of collaging every day was offered to me. After the caffeine wrestling debate, this felt like an offering - something I could do for Lent that would be pleasant, encouraging and self-nurturing, not scary and potentially painful.
"She can take a pill," K said.
"Actually the pills have caffeine in them, so I can't take them," I said.
"Oh, well... I can rub your toes for you," B said to end the conversation (we've recently been discussing reflexology and have heard that rubbing the big toe helps ease a headache).
After their initial reactions to my Lenten practices, it was interesting to see my daughters' thoughts and feelings play out. Six year old K is, quite frankly, not thrilled about this. She has said things like, "I don't want to give up anything. My life is fun." or "I don't want to clean my room everyday. That's too hard." and (my personal favorite) "How about if I take on having dessert every night? Would that count?" After I nixed the idea of 40 days of dessert, she seems to have settled on the idea that she will read everyday. This wouldn't be much of a change or feel special to anyone else in our family, but as a fledgling reader, this is a Lenten practice that will bless and grow K - and she won't have to clean her room everyday or give up chocolate. Good all around, right?
Eleven year old A is giving up dessert for Lent and committing to do her devotion everyday. These will be small adjustments for her - she already does her devotion four days weekly and dessert is irregular, at best, in our home. But what I see in A's choices is a desire to get it right - a desire to do what is being asked of her and do it well.
B's Lent may be the one that transforms our entire family the most: my nine year old middle child wants to give up fighting with her sisters. This was completely her own idea and she's been thinking about it for several weeks. It won't be easy - she's nine. Her sisters drive her crazy on a regular basis. But she really wants to try this and she is excited about the challenge of it.
I love how B's Lenten choice gets to the heart of the season. She will have to set aside her rights, think of herself less and live with greater humility to make this work. Don't get me wrong: I know this will not be a perfectly executed plan. Please don't expect to visit my home and see three smiling daughters playing happily and contentedly without a cross word. It's a journey. What I do hope will come of this Lent is an awareness - for our whole family - of how to practically and regularly put others first. I can think of few things that would bring us closer to following in Jesus' footsteps this Lent.