I called up the stairs and asked my daughters to join Steve and me in the family room. One by one they found their way to the couch, searching my eyes for some explanation. I smiled and made a face as my youngest nervously asked, “Are we in trouble?”
“No, no, you’re not in trouble,” I reassured them. “I just want your help with something.” I explained my desire to write about our Lent experience this year and was eager to hear their thoughts on why we observe Lent in the first place.
After a collective sigh of relief, the girls easily shared their ideas and thoughts on why some Christians observe Lent. Their initial understanding was related to people giving up something they really like for forty days. They reminisced about past Lent sacrifices and laughed remembering how one friend gave up turning off her bedroom light at night. None of us really understood that one.
One by one, they shared the following:
“It’s about imitating Jesus and his forty days in the desert.”
“It’s about doing something that is hard to bring us closer to God.”
When I asked how doing something hard brings us closer to God, one daughter said, “Well, when it gets really hard, you HAVE to ask Him to help you.”
Another daughter shared, “When it is hard, it makes you really think about why you are doing it and it reminds you to think about God more.”
We sat staring at each other and I said, “So when you gave something up for Lent in the past, did it really make you closer to God?”
One daughter shrugged and honestly admitted, “No, not really. When I gave up sweets, it was more about wanting to be on a healthy diet and not so much about God.”
Another daughter responded, “I guess Lent feels kind of like a New Year’s resolution which makes it more about ME than about God. Sometimes I think that personal growth is different from connecting with God.”
I shifted in my seat, fearing this discussion might be opening a big can of worms. I wasn’t really surprised when my girls confessed that they aren’t always sure what it means to have a relationship with God. I found myself wondering if I really understood how to help them navigate their faith in Christ. Do they even desire a deeper relationship with Him?
What does it mean to desire a deeper relationship with Christ when you are 12 years old? 16 years old? 47 years old? What does living look like if we really desire to know Jesus more? It is difficult when I hear someone I love honestly share that she’s not sure she really needs God in her life right now and often wonders if it is something she can “put off” until she’s older.
I thought about all that I am able to give my girls. When McKenzie shows me how her athletic shoes are falling apart, I can hop on Zappos.com and get a new pair by tomorrow. I give them rides to social events, buy avocados for their favorite sandwich, and hold them when they are crying from deep disappointment, but I can’t buy them a relationship with Christ. I can’t even buy them the desire for Him. I can’t do that for anyone.
I sure want to though.
I know it is the Holy Spirit who draws us to Himself, but I find myself thinking a lot about what we can do as His people to grow in our relationship with Him. Are spiritual disciplines just as important as our complete surrender to Christ? Can we have one without the other? What is the balance between the two?
There is so much to consider over the next forty days. I don’t want Lent to be only about my diligent attempt to give something up, allowing me to pat myself on the back on Easter Sunday for my success. I want to find Jesus more than I ever have. I want to make room for Him by sacrificing my uncanny ability to be self-absorbed. I don’t know what I will find along the way, but I hope you will join me.
As my daughters and I sat gently looking each other, I looked down, running my fingers along the rim of the can of worms I had opened and thanked them for their willingness to be honest with me. They waited quietly, knowing me well enough to know I had more to say. My voice cracked as I shared my love for them and my desire for them to know deeply just how much God loves them.
As they stood up to return to their regularly scheduled programs, I watched them leave, my heart aching with love and gratitude for these three special gifts in my life.
Today on Ash Wednesday, I am reminded of this quote from Micha Boyett’s beautiful book, Found. It feels like the right mindset to enter this Lenten assignment:
“The beauty of Ash Wednesday though is not the ashes on the forehead, the reminder of our frailties and failures. It is the shape of the ashes, the cross, with all its wild, illogical demands. It calls us to recognize how our lives are flashing and fading. It asks us to notice our need for restoration, our longing for eternity. The cross is the hope that all I am missing right now – everything I’m not being for my son, whose needs I’m only beginning to scratch the surface of understanding – is all gathered up in mercy. Grace is poured over our ashes, a cold cup of clear water washing away the gray goop on our faces, taking our weak-willed offerings and remaking them beautiful. Maybe redemption is the only possible story my life is telling.” (Found, p.198)
Lent Application: During Lent, my family wants to try and notice significant moments during the week, good or bad, and see if we can learn anything about God in those times. We hope we will be able to take time each week to talk as a family and share what we are learning, even if it is just to share a couple words of thanks with each other.
*I am writing a weekly Lent series for my church and wanted to share it here as well.