Lent in Present Tense

I woke up early the morning after Ash Wednesday anxious about Lent.

Why had I voluntarily complicated my life?
Would I actually be uncomfortable?
Surely Jesus doesn’t want me to be uncomfortable! 

I’m okay with doing complicated things, but I’d like to do them from as comfortable a space as possible. Comfort during Lent is designed to come from Jesus rather than ephemeral pleasure, though.

Approaching Lent in present tense- that is, not dreaming about how it will look next week or next month, but how it looks right now today- has been helpful. Practicing Lent diverges from achieving or perfecting it.

As I was Pinterest-ing resources for our children’s ministry observance of Lent a back in February, I ran across the admonition to pause the crafting, coloring, printing, and gathering resources for Lent and just start observing it. Just do Lent. Resources are helpful (and I’m all about integrating reminders and illustrations into daily life!), but they are not the central thing. The focal point of Lent is dependence on the sustaining work of God.

So what might help us live Lent in the present-tense?

Remember your Fast:  

A fast as described in Isaiah 59 is about solidarity in suffering, both with people who suffer around the world and with Christ who suffered on our behalf. Does my fast encourage compassion toward someone in my community or around the world? Spending time in remembrance and prayer for that group and considering whether there is an action of compassion or justice that I can take with the time, energy, or resources preserved from the fast helps refocus hearts and minds.

Ash Wednesday Watercolor Project

A few of our Ash Wednesday watercolor paintings from the three, four, and five year olds at church.

Meditate on the Love of Christ: 

The message of the Gospel is that Christ has suffered on our behalf to purchase reconciliation and freedom. It’s quite possible to fast with justice in mind and overlook the central gift of Christ. Reading various accounts of the Holy Week (in the different gospels or different Children’s Bible Storybooks), reflecting on the Stations of the Cross, or singing hymns that retell the gift of Christ can redirect a heart toward the source of our hope and compassion.

Lean into the Quiet, Slow Pace: 

When we  say “no” to something because it’s related to a Lenten fast (a snack, a TV show, etc.), point to a different form of observance. For children, this might look like saying something along the lines of, “We don’t have dessert this week, but why don’t we put on some special Lent music to listen to while we eat crackers and cheese?” or, “We’re not watching TV right now, but would you like to light the candles on the table while you color a card or read after dinner?” Learning to slow down takes practice, encouragement, and intentionality; Lent is a natural time in our church year to lean into these slower rhythms of reflection.

 

 

 

Easy Explanations: Ash Wednesday

Ash Wednesday

Ash Wednesday can be a meaningful time for whole church families to reflect and worship together, but it can also be a stressful time if the focus in “keeping children quiet” rather than inviting them into worship.

Spending 5-10 minutes (even just the car ride!) preparing children for what they might see and hear at the service can help them engage in prayer and worship, too.

What is Ash Wednesday about? 

On Ash Wednesday the whole church prays, “God, without you, we are small and weak. We can’t do life by ourselves, even though sometimes we try. Sometimes we choose to disobey. Help us to choose to follow you. Help us to know how to trust you.”

Why do we observe Ash Wednesday? 

Ash Wednesday is the first part of a season called Lent. During Lent we tell God we are sorry for our sins, and ask him to help us know his love and forgiveness even deeper in our hearts.

What will happen at church on Ash Wednesday? 

At the Ash Wednesday service we get ash marks on our foreheads. This reminds us of when God first made people, he made us out of dust. When we die, our bodies will eventually turn to dust again. Sometimes we forget that we are just dust and think we are stronger. We tell ourselves, “My way is the best!” or “I can be good all by myself!”, or “I don’t want to obey Jesus today!”.

Ash Wednesday is a day of saying with our hearts and our lips, “I’m not good enough. I choose to sin. I’m sorry. Help me to turn away and choose to follow you, God.” After you get ashes on your forehead, look around and see everyone else with their ashes. No matter how young or old or big or small, everyone needs God.

At our Ash Wednesday Service, a pastor will talk about how we worship God in secret instead of to make a show. This is because we don’t do these things so that other people say “Oh! She’s so good!” or, “He must love Jesus a lot!”. When we know in our heart that God says, “I love you! I see you worshiping me!” that’s the best encouragement.

Easy Explanations: Lent

What is Lent? 

Have you ever seen a movie that had something very sad happen? Think about how the different parts of the movie helped you feel sad as you watched. The sky outside was probably gray or rainy. There might have been some sad music. Maybe everything in the movie was a little bit slower and quieter. It was a very serious part of the story! Lent is a serious part of the church year because we are admitting that we choose sin instead of God’s love. During Lent we turn away from our sin and choose to go the other way, back to God. This is called repentance.

Why do we have Lent?

Sometimes our church has big celebrations to remember something that is very happy. Can you think of any examples of those times? We celebrate the gift of Jesus at Christmas and Easter, a life committed to obedience when someone is baptized, and Christ’s sacrifice on the cross at Communion each week. We are so happy that we want to come together and share our joy with each other!  It’s also important to take time to remember hard and sad things; we do this with our church family, too.  Everyone in our whole church- kids, grown-ups, and even pastors- sometimes disobey God’s commandments. During Lent, our whole church family, just like any family, will stick close together as we learn more about following God with our whole hearts.