Monday, February 04, 2008

Our Family's Lenten Practices

We discuss and model three disciplines with our kids during Lent: confession, fasting, and engagement.


We discuss: Why do we need a whole 40 days of penitence? We should confess our sins year 'round, shouldn't we?

And we should indeed. But we get comfortable in our sins. Or we pretend they're not really sin. Or we're so used to them, we forget about trying to change. After all, nobody can live a sinless life. Why bother?

I love Frederica Mathewes-Greene's answer:

[I]f we're Christians we're always hearing that God loves us just the way we are, and that Jesus has paid for all our sins, so it looks like there's nothing left to do. We can spend this life watching TV. Yet we have to ask: why are our lives so tedious and uninspired? Why do we who claim to be Christian behave no better (kinder, more justly, more honestly) than those who don't? Is this whole life just waiting around to go to heaven, killing time at the mall?

When we read the New Testament it's clear that early Christians experienced something a lot more exciting than we do--something transforming, in fact. In the Bible and other early writings they describe "life in Christ" in terms that are vigorous rather than stagnant; they were being changed day by day into the likeness of his glory. The most distinctive thing about the way early Christians describe their lives is *energy*. God is at work! Look out! Amazing things are happening!

…If you want to be transformed, you'll have to change. If you're going to change, you have to admit you need to change. You have to look inside, where it's dusty and cobwebbed, and let the light start to shine in.

This is why repentance feels like a relief. It's admitting the truth about ourselves--stuff God already knows, but which we go to exhausting lengths to deny. Once it's in the open, we can deal with it, and start to see things change. We may even see miracles, even if they're just in our own behavior: more hopeful, more compassionate, less cranky. (The rest of this article is here.)

Lent is a time set aside to deal with sin. So during Lent we practice confession, asking God to search our hearts and put His finger on those things in our lives that need to change.

Usually the older kids and I write out our confessions, and we share some or all of them out loud. I have seen the relief that comes from admitting that they sometimes sneak candy or intentionally make their little sister cry or lie about Lego claims (after multiple trades, ownership gets fuzzy). And it's good for them to know that I know that I sin against them on a regular basis, with anger or a blaming spirit or failures of love.

We talk about the difference between sins of commission (things we have done) and sins of omission (things we have left undone). Ignoring a little siblings' request for help is sinful. Not being loving is as bad as being mean. Forgetting those in need is wrong. We may also discuss the Litany of Penitence, from the Ash Wednesday service, as an example.

We often burn these confessions in the fireplace on Ash Wednesday, but I think this year we'll wait and do it on Good Friday. I think for myself it will be powerful to confess my list daily for 40 days.


As we say no to our appetites, we strengthen our will to say no to sin. So we serve no desserts during Lent, and we encourage our kids to give up some little enjoyable habit or something that distracts them from the Lord or from obedience (as we also do). They've given up Legos, secular music, a favorite breakfast cereal--and sometimes they find, in their Easter basket, a small Lego set, a CD or a box of cereal.

One of our friends asked his nine or ten year old daughter what she had given up for Lent. "Well," she sighed, "I tried giving up sin. But I just couldn't do it. So I guess I'm switching to chocolate."

(Baby steps, kids--it's all about baby steps. Even for grown-ups.)

Disciplines of engagement:

During Lent, we try to add in a practice that will help us grow spiritually. We may purpose to memorize a Scripture passage, or read the Bible every day (besides our family Bible reading), or choose a character quality we want to exercise and grow in. We may select special Lenten devotional reading, or choose a ministry to serve in, or save money for a charity (a traditional Lenten discipline of engagement called almsgiving).

And we continue to discuss Lenten themes throughout the 40 days. One time, we were reflecting on the Psalm 51 Ash Wednesday reading ("For he himself knows whereof we are made; he remembers that we are but dust. Our days are like the grass; we flourish like a flower of the field; When the wind goes over it, it is gone, and its place shall know it no more.") I explained that it's important for us to realize how small we are and how short our lives on earth are, and how big and eternal God is, rather than having such a huge focus on ourselves.

"I get it!" Bantam(11, at the time) said, "It's like, we're the ants, and God is the dude!"

Lent's practical disciplines and prayerful emphases help us as we wage war against the sin that so easily entangles us. As Christ was put to death, effectively taking our sins with him, that He might rise in glory, unblemished and unstained by sin—so we too, during Lent, attempt to put to death a little more of that sinful nature, that we may rise above it, with Christ, during Easter!


Paul said...

Will Light of Christ be having Ash Wednesday services?

At A Hen's Pace said...

Paul, yes, they will--although my kids and I will be at a dress rehearsal for Godspell, so we'll be going to a noon service at our home church in IL.

If you give me a return email (email me at the address in the sidebar), I can find out time & place at Light of Christ and let you know!