Giving Our Children the Chance to Practice Difficult Things
Today we welcome guest blogger Cindy Spencer, who works in Children and Family Ministries at Saint Mark’s Cathedral and the Episcopal Diocese of Olympia. Cindy serves on the Lifelong Formation Council.
It’s Lent again, the time of year when, as a minister to children and families, I begin to pick up on a distinct uneasiness within my parent community. As if it wasn’t bad enough that it’s still pretty dark, rainy, and depressing, weather-wise in our neck of the woods, all of a sudden (because the shifting dates always take us by surprise!) it’s Lent.
It usually goes something like this: Look, we’re all pretty comfortable with the getting-readiness of Advent. Anticipation, lights in the darkness, the coziness of a fire in the fireplace, and a baby! A baby that reminds us of this – somehow God became a person.
Advent is cool. But, Lent? Do we really have to go there?
Because not only does the season of Lent focus on our own shortcomings, even, dare we say, sin, it leads us directly into the Easter story, which is much less easy. To get to Easter, we go through Holy Week, and that means our kids will hear about death. And that leads to the questions, all the questions!
Were the nails real?
Is that real blood?
Why did Jesus have to die?
Will you die?
How (exactly!) did God make Jesus alive again?
And so I take a deep breath, and seek to hold the questions of the families for a little while. And then I plunge in, because, like entering a Pacific Northwest lake, some things have to be entered quickly, and all at once, or you never get up the courage to enter at all.
I think we do Lent, even with young children in our families, as a ritualized opportunity to practice being present in the hard stuff of life as well as in the hard stuff of faith. Hard stuff comes to all of us, even young children, even when we try to protect them. In my own family, we’ve had to face many things together, most of which will be familiar to any family – a seriously ill child, possibly facing a liver transplant; parents and grandparents with cancer; learning to adapt to the developmental disabilities of a family member; and even to the more mundane hardness of moving houses, changing jobs and schools. We were able to face these situations because we’ve had practice with hard stuff. We have trust that God is with us in the situations that we face every day, as well as in the situations that completely throw us overboard.
So in Lent, we take on disciplines or practices, not to prove we’re better Christians, or that we’re worthy of salvation, but to remind us that hard stuff – big questions, existential issues, if you will – happens in our life, and that God doesn’t leave us alone in them. We remember that they happened in the life of Christ. We look to other members of the Christian community for support in getting through these 40 days, just as we are often forced to turn to each other for support in life crises. And we get ready, once again, to rediscover that somehow God is bigger than our crisis, that our yearly practice of resurrection also prepares us for the resurrections in our own lives.
You see, especially with young children, we never end the story without going on to the resurrection, even during Lent and Holy Week. They’re still learning to connect all the parts. They need to know both sides of the Lent/Easter coin. The joy doesn’t make much sense without the hard parts. The hard parts are unbearable without the joy.
So I remind my families, yearly, that we do Lent, because our children deserve to practice hard things. Not alone, always together. But that in doing so, we are equipping them with the Gospel message of hope and resilience. We are trusting them with the story, even the hard parts. And together, through the journey of Lent, we are able to travel on to Easter joy.