Yesterday, I brought up Ash Wednesday with my girls on the way home from school. I started with a question I knew they’d been seeing in their social media feeds.
Me: So, Kaia, are you giving anything up for Lent?
K, newly 18yo: Oh, is that still a thing?
Me, trying to keep the eye roll out of my voice: Yes, it’s still a thing.
K: Hmmm… I hadn’t really thought about it.
Me: Well, think about it, and I’ll ask you again later.
K: One of my friends is giving up her vape. (Equivalent to quitting smoking)
Me: Wow. That sounds like a good idea.
K: Why do we give things up again?
So began our conversation about Jesus, forty days, temptation, and personal sacrifice. I reminded her of the stories she’s heard but forgotten; our conversation was full of oh yeahs and one or two oh that’s rights.
K: So, does that mean we’re going to church tomorrow?
Me, hesitantly: Yes, we’re going at seven o’clock.
K, nonchalantly: Okay.
Two hours later, on the way home from dance practice:
Me: So, Jaiya, are you giving up anything for Lent?
J: Hmmm… I probably should… I don’t know.
Me: Well, sometimes people take on a discipline instead of giving something up. There’s still sacrifice involved, because if you take something on, there’s less time for other things that you might do in that time.
J: Yeah, that’s true, I could do that.
Me: What would you take on?
J: I don’t know… why do we do this again?
A conversation similar to the one I had with Kaia ensued, minus the attitude.
J: So, are we going to church?
Me: Yes, tomorrow at seven.
A couple of years ago, Derek Olson wrote a blog post about taking his kids to church on Ash Wednesday. I encourage you to read it. Ash Wednesday worship is not generally teeming with young people. My kids are sometimes the only kids there. And on the occasions when we went before school, they had to explain that no, they don’t have some schmutz on their foreheads. I’ve seen adults reach to wipe the ashes off of my girls, and they go into moves from The Matrix.
“No, it’s okay, it’s not dirt,” they’d say. “It’s ashes.”
“Really? You don’t want to wipe it off? Hasn’t been on you long enough?”
Growing up, my dad emphasized celebrating Lent and Easter over Christmas. He taught us that Jesus’s death was much more important than his birth. Knowing this didn’t lessen our celebration of Christmas, but it served to put Christmas in its proper perspective. Death is forever; so is a life with Jesus.
In understanding Jesus’s death, we can come to understand the death of our pets, our grandparents, parents, friends, strangers, and even our own death. We celebrate Jesus’s victory over the grave at Easter. But before we get there, we must remember our own death.
Death, albeit a challenging topic for many of us, shouldn’t be hidden from our children. When your family experiences death of any kind, be brave. Talk to your children about it. Let them see you cry and be upset. Don’t hide your feelings from your kids, and definitely don’t hide your feelings from your teens.
Think back to a time when an adult talked to you, and you could tell they were hiding something. My observation as a parent and teacher is that kids usually know anyway – somewhere deep in their souls, they know. So be honest, even if being honest means explaining that your dog isn’t coming back – or explaining Ash Wednesday for the umpteenth time.
The honest truth we celebrate today is that the baby Jesus we celebrated at Christams will die. We will die. Our precious children will die. We will return to ashes, just like last year’s palms that were burned to remind us of our mortality. Those ashes remind us of our desolation, despair, bleakness and loneliness. And that is reason to rejoice, because it means we are alive, here, today, together – beginning our forty day journey with Jesus.
Let all the inhabitants of the land tremble, for the day of the Lord is coming, it is near–
a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and thick darkness!
Yet even now, says the Lord, return to me with all your heart,
with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; rend your hearts and not your clothing.
How do you commemorate Ash Wednesday with your family?