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Certain things are expected in my household this time of year. My children expect Monkey Bread with green, gold and purple sugar for breakfast and waffles with strawberries and whipped cream for dinner on Mardi Gras. It’s the way it’s always been. They expect a salt dough wreath with toothpicks stuck in it. For every sacrifice made, they will break off a toothpick. The wreath will be covered in silk ribbons and flowers for Easter morning. They expect to take the gold letters that spell “Alleluia” and put them in a purple bag; they know I will hide them away until they appear on the mantel Easter morning. All these are the traditions that mark Lent’s beginning in our household. Through the years, our nine children have grown into the comfortable living of the liturgical year with the careful keeping of these traditions and others like them. Traditions of the domestic Church are part of who they are. I’m grateful for that.
As they get older — four of them are now teenagers or young adults — some of those traditions are fun, but not really the depth their souls cry out for at the beginning of Lent. As they get older, they mature spiritually and yearn to be called into a more complete relationship with their savior. But, as they get older, it gets a little more difficult to talk about God. He’s gone from “Jesus loves me, this I know” to the awesome God who allows all things, both good and bad, in a great big world. And He draws them into an intimacy with Him that doesn’t necessarily need Mom in the middle.
Still, young Christians can benefit from spiritual mentoring and parents are called to that role, uniquely equipped for it by the grace God abundantly showers on a married couple when they are open to life and love. Shy mothers need to have those conversations with introspective teenagers.
This year, we started a new early Lent tradition: a private talk with Mom about where prayer life and Bible life and God life is and how Lent could be used to its greatest benefit. Like so many important conversations, each child’s temperament dictates where that talk can happen. Some kids much prefer the comfort and eyes-straight-ahead of a car ride. Some are very happy in a booth at a coffee shop. Lots of great heart-sharing can happen while driving to soccer or ballet. Likewise, some of our best talks begin with a cup of something warm.
I have taken this time to share with my older children about my own struggles and obstacles, opening an invitation for them to confide, while also hoping to help them avoid some common pitfalls. Above all, we talk about Lent as a time of sacrifice that draws us closer to God. It’s really not about the gold letters or the fun cake or even the toothpicks — though they do plant the seeds. It’s about giving up, doing more and striving, all the while learning how much we need God to get there. It’s pointless to “give up something for Lent” if we don’t need God’s help to keep the Lenten resolution. So, we talk about the obstacles that are keeping us from drawing close and we look for ways to use Lent to come closer to more perfect communion.
By conversation’s end, we’ve both learned something — about God and about each other.
Foss, whose website is elizabethfoss.com, is a freelance writer from Northern Virginia.