Lent in Present Tense, Step 2.

Originally Published at Restoration Anglican Church’s blog

A few weeks ago I reflected on my personal blog about the realities of Lenten devotion. The inconvenience of sacrifice brought pain that spiritual endorphins pre-Lent had blinded me to.  I expected to feel holy, but I just felt frustrated. As it turns out, practicing Lent is more difficult than thinking about it before hand.

Now, though, the pendulum has swung and my Lenten observance has become almost wrote; I barely remember it except for a few moments at the beginning and end of my days. It’s become easy for me to find new, Lent-approved distractions to fill the void left from my fasting. I’m both tired of the Lenten season and numb to my particular fast.

I saw this a few days ago when I heard someone mention that she doesn’t even miss the food she chose to abstain from. In an “adopt a healthy diet” sense, this is a good sign, but her fast isn’t necessarily encouraging reliance on Christ.

Here, at the halfway point, lies a great time to reassess and adapt our Lenten practices: Is there a new perspective or habit I hoped to gain from Lent? Is there a spiritual practice I planned to incorporate? What did I hope to gain from this particular form of fasting?

Before Lent, I envisioned spending some extended time in prayer, reading, and reflection, which I haven’t scheduled yet. I planned to commit a Scripture to memory related to my area of justice, and I have yet to pick a reference. With nearly three weeks left, though, it’s not too late to reincorporate these realities into my life. By making concrete plan to spend time in quiet and prayer, I can recenter my heart and mind on God’s work in and through me in this season.

 

It’s also not too late to incorporate Lent as a family. If you chose to make a sacrifice as a family a few weeks ago, it might be time to recommit to prayer for justice. Maybe a family fast didn’t happen this year, but there’s still time to adopt a service project like cleaning up a neighbor’s yard, sending cards or pictures to an ill family member of friend, or choose to pool financial resources to make a donation to a local ministry.

I’m reminded of Christ’s admonition to his disciples that the Sabbath was implemented for people as a day of rest; people weren’t made just to follow the rules of the Sabbath (Mark 2:23-27). The season of Lent comes to the church as a time for quiet repentance, a reminder to yearn for justice, and an anticipation of resurrection life in God’s Kingdom.

 

 

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.

 

 

 

Introducing Children to 3 Actions of Lent

Lent is a season of action and activity deep within our hearts. While Christmas and Easter often have lots of outward activity, most of Lent is happening beneath the surface. Children often have deep awareness of ways that they want to grow and learn, with active spiritual lives. Invite them into this season of Lent with the following explanations and action steps:

Turn Around: During Lent, people choose to turn away from something that is sinful. Maybe you argue about seats in the car, complain about doing your chores, or have a bad attitude about going to bed. Lent is a time when you say, “I want to be a person who obeys the Lord! For the next 6 weeks I’m going to ask Jesus to help me not to ____,  and I’m going to ask my family to help me remember!”.

Is there something in your life that you want to turn around from?

Lay it Down: Some people choose to lay aside something that makes them happy or comfortable so they remember that God makes us the happiest. This is called fasting. People give up special treats like candy, television, video games, or a favorite toy. Every time they think, “oh, I wish I could watch tv right now!”, or “I’m hungry for something sweet!” they remember that those things are nice, but the gift of Jesus is even better. While you miss your special treat, you’re pointed toward remembering Jesus.

Is there something that you would like to take a break from to remember God more?

Pick Up: Now that you have extra room from turning from sin and laying down something you love, there’s space to start a new habit to help you Love God and Love Others more. Think about something you want to grow in: encouragement, service, knowledge of the Bible, sharing, gratitude. Then, think of a way that you can practice this for the next 6 weeks. You could encourage others by sending a homemade card in the mail each week or writing surprise, “I love you!” notes to your family members. You could make a big “Things I Thank God for” poster and add something new each day. You could memorize a few Bible verses or listen to Scripture music on the way to school everyday.

How would you like to worship and focus on Jesus this Lent?

(originally published March 2014)

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.