“For you being a priest, we aren’t the most religious family.”
I had asked my daughter her thoughts on how we observe Lent. I wasn’t sure how I was supposed to respond, to be honest. Was this a barb? Was it supposed to sting? Or was this just a simple, stated observation? Honestly, it can be hard to decipher the words of a 13-year-old sometimes.
In fact, these words have been uttered by each of my two kids in recent weeks. While they have been spoken in different contexts, I’ve been wrestling with what they are saying to me, about our family.
“So, what do you mean by that?” I asked.
“I don’t know. We don’t sit around praying and reading the Bible all the time.” She put her hands together and chanted loud, long, and strong: “Aaaaameeeen!” Think along the lines of a kid doing an impression of a monk from a Monty Python movie.
I responded, “But what do we actually do during Lent?”
“We give up stuff and take stuff on.”
“Why do we do that?”
“To make more room for God in our lives.”
I probably let out a little sigh of relief. Whew! Not as much a failure as I feared!
My kids have grown up with a very different relationship with the church than I did. While I rarely attended church of any kind throughout my childhood, my kiddos have grown up as church rats. As the children of a long-time youth minister who then became a priest, they have always lived in very close proximity to the church. They attended youth group since the day they were born, ran the halls of churches at the oddest of hours, and have pet names for vestments (chasuble = holy poncho).
In the midst of this peculiar context, I’ve tried to strike an odd balance in how we approach faith and our lives in the way of Jesus. On one hand, I am one who is particularly wary of over-spiritualizing anything. For instance, I don’t think God provided that parking space when I was running a little behind to meet a friend for lunch. And yet, on the other hand, I have long been drawn to Jesuit spirituality, the intentional posture of finding God in all things.
And in navigating this curious dance with healthy tension, I hope to help my kids see and know God in the everyday and ordinary aspects of our lives and the world around them. I want to cultivate a simple and pragmatic spirituality that intuitively approaches the world as marinated in the holy.
While this is work to be done at all times, Lent provides a focused opportunity.
At the core, our family takes a simple approach that is not uncommon. Each person in the family typically fasts from or gives up something, and then each person takes on something. Our observance of a holy Lent is nothing radical, just simple and practical. We begin this conversation 2-3 weeks prior to Lent and continue throughout, discussing the value and impact of these decisions.
It is these conversations that become the fertile soil of formation and growth. These discussions have explored how food choices affect creation and our bodies. We have examined how we are connected to others, and we have wrestled with human mortality. Simple postures and practices have taken us into deep theological territory.
- How does this fast make more room for God in your life?
- How does this fast/practice help you see God more in other people and/or in the world?
- How might this new practice draw you closer to God?
- Does it make you feel different? Do you have any new appreciations or perspectives?
In addition, the examination questions in the Baptismal Covenant provide fodder for incredibly fruitful conversations.
- How does this help us proclaim Good News?
- How does this help us seek and serve Christ, love our neighbor?
- How is this related to justice? Does it bring peace?
While these are simple jumping off points, we rarely land in the shallow end. Be prepared for deep water.
This past spring I took a new call. We moved to a new church about 9 months ago. Recently, as we reflected on the move, we identified some areas of our family life and faith journeys that need attention. Prior to the move, we regularly served together with different outreach/service ministries (soup kitchens, food banks, Laundry Love, and others). This aspect of our faith life together as a family has been missing since our move. This year for Lent, a focus for me is to get us back into that habit as a family.
It’s funny, when we serve at the soup kitchen or the food bank, the kids don’t necessarily equate that as being religious. Helping people with their laundry isn’t seen as a holier-than-thou piety. And yet, they do know these sorts of actions to be holy work.
So, I try not to be worried about whether my kids think we are religious or not. Instead, I’ll try to invite them to discover the myriad of ways God is packed in amongst the ordinary and everyday.
What does it mean to you to be religious?