“What are you giving up for Lent, Mom? I am giving up milk.”
Today is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent.
My oldest child is giving up pouring milk on her cereal. I wonder what she plans to eat for breakfast now, since we are pretty much a cereal-7-days-a-week family. There, I said it. I’d like everyone to believe I feed my kids a protein-packed, hearty breakfast before I send them off to face the day, but that is not the case. At least their cereal is fortified with vitamins and minerals — that has to count for something, right?
Charlotte, the middle sister, says she is giving up chocolate. Shiloh, who is 4, says she isn’t giving up anything…and if you know her, you wouldn’t expect anything else.
The girls aren’t the only ones talking about what they are going to sacrifice for the next 40 days. Luke and I have talked about it. Groups of friends have been talking about it. Before long, I will see posts on Instagram and Facebook memorializing many vices, from coffee to sweets to French fries to social media in general. #SeeYouin40Days
Last night, as I was snuggling with Charlotte before bed, we were talking about Lent, church, and all the things. I told her how I planned to attend the Ash Wednesday mass with her school the next day, and she was excited.
“Mom, you will get to hear my favorite part of church! Father Dudzinski always says, ‘Now where are my Kindergartners? Ok, what color is my vestment today?’ And I always know the answer!” All this from the same child who feigns mysterious illness each and every Sunday in an attempt to skip church.
As we were making our way out the door this morning for school and the morning Ash Wednesday mass, Leo got ahold of some brown eyeliner and drew all over a piece of furniture in our bedroom in addition to his hands. Frazzled and rushed and running late (like always), I was snappy with the girls and unhappy to be wrestling an almost 2 year old into his car seat.
Pulling out of the garage, I managed to swipe the front corner of the van on the side of the garage door. As Noelle is trying to tell me a synopsis of chapter 29 in the 5th Harry Potter book, I lose my grip and start to cry. Well, really… I threw a fit.
“WHY DOES EVERYTHING HAVE TO BE SO HARD?”
I cried out. I picked up the phone and called Luke who was already at work due to an early meeting. He was going to be meeting us at mass 45 minutes later, and I called to tell him that I was not going to be joining because I just couldn’t do it.
I couldn’t wrangle Leo. I couldn’t pretend that I was happy. I couldn’t pretend that I felt prayerful on this first day of Lent. I couldn’t pretend that I wasn’t distracted by the 4 piles of clean laundry that need folded and the dishes from yesterday that need cleaned.
I couldn’t, and I wasn’t gonna.
Luke’s response was, “That’s fine. I want you to do what you think you should do.”
He’s learning. He didn’t try to talk me out of my feelings. He didn’t provide me with guilt or a lecture. He knew I was suffering from my own guilt and sadness, and I didn’t need him to add to it.
The rest of the drive was pretty quiet. After I dropped my girls off at school, I followed the parking lot around to the church, passing it by.
But I pulled in and parked. Maybe I would just sit in the parking lot and pray while Leo was secured in his car seat.
I recalled an article a friend sent me the day before — talking about how God doesn’t really need our sacrifices of Starbucks or chocolate or wine or Facebook. Sure, He is happy with your effort to prayerfully go without “that thing” you just love so much, but what He really wants and really needs “for Lent” is you.
He wants me, in that moment when I was ready to turn my van around, head home, and drown my sorrows in Diet Coke and trash TV.
He wants me, with tear stains in my makeup and mascara smudges under my eyes.
He wants me, after I yelled at my kids for the silliest offenses and cursed at the garage door.
He wants me, even when I can’t look myself in the mirror after how I have lost my temper with my kids or have been a resentful wife or an unsympathetic friend.
So I went in. I sat near the back so I could plan an escape if needed.
Moments later, Luke walked in and assumed the role of Leo Wrangler.
The gospel reading reminded me that the Lenten practices of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving are personal and private.
Matthew 6:1 “[But] take care not to perform righteous deeds in order that people may see them…”
Matthew 6:5 “When you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, who love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on street corners so that others may see them.”
Matthew 6:16 “When you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites. They neglect their appearance, so that they may appear to others to be fasting.”
Lent can sometimes, secularly, look like a way to lose 10 pounds before Easter or get a Spring Break body by restricting sugar or fried foods, rather than a way to help us grow closer to Jesus. Afterall, fasting without prayer is simply a diet.
I, myself, have been guilty of proclaiming my Lenten sacrifice for everyone to know, sharing how hard it has been or how I can’t wait until Easter so that I can go right back to my vice of choice.
But I know now that this is not what God wants from me.
He just wants me. And whatever I need to sacrifice, pray for, or give that will allow me to show up for Him these next 40 days — that’s what I am “doing” for Lent.
After the gospel reading, Father Dudzinski walked down the steps and began to talk to the school children in front.
“Now, where are my Kindergartners? What color of vestment am I wearing today?”
As the group of sweet babies said in chorus, “Purple!”…I knew my Charlotte was one of them.
I smiled. Her favorite part of church.