In January I read an article that a member of my primary care physician’s staff messaged me through our patient portal. It began, “The human brain craves certainty. Predictable patterns allow us to shape our routines and make decisions with confidence, while uncertainty may cause elevated levels of anxiety.” The article goes on to describe the benefits of deep breathing and mindfulness meditation, two things I use along with a prescribed medication to manage my anxiety.
As we enter into our third Lent of the pandemic, I’m grateful for the muscle memory and predictable patterns I have created for this season. I feel prepared for this Lent in a way that I wasn’t in 2021. Like literally every person on planet earth, sacrifice and the desert wilderness has become part of my daily life. I’ve turned to prayer for strength in ways I haven’t before.
As Christians, we know that Good Friday isn’t the end of Jesus’ story. We know that Easter morning will come. Yet last year, our collective low grade trauma overwhelmed me during Lent and I struggled holding out hope for Easter morning and for the end of the pandemic.
This year feels different. My congregation will worship in person today and on Sundays throughout Lent. Hospitalizations are down around the country and in many areas the CDC has eased masking recommendations. There’s a hope that the past two seasons of Lent didn’t carry, and I want to spend my time of self-examination reflecting on that this year. What have I unwillingly fasted from during the pandemic? What effects did it have? What muscle memories of my faith sustained me? Where did I see Christ at work?
Whereas last year I pretty much ignored all Lenten disciplines, I’m actually looking forward to diving into this season. My children though aren’t able to attend an Ash Wednesday service today. We considered simply reading the Prayer Book’s Invitation fo the Holy Lent over breakfast, but ultimately decided hold our own liturgy as a family tonight. We will use this resource created by the Rev. Jennifer McNally, priest at Saint Anne’s Episcopal Church and convener of dinner church Table 229, St. Paul, Minnesota, and the Rev. Anna V. Ostenso Moore, Associate for Family Ministry at St. Mark’s Episcopal Cathedral, Minneapolis.
I’ve found that the words of our Ash Wednesday liturgy and the imposition of ashes offer us the opportunity to talk honestly with children about death and our hope as Christians in eternal life. Our children are now 10 and 13, and still need the space to wonder aloud about death and resurrection.
How will you observe a holy Lent in 2022? What needs examining? What relationships need restoring?
If you aren’t yet sure how you or your household will observe the season, our friend Traci Smith led a webinar last month based on her new book, Faithful Families for Lent, Easter, and Resurrection: Simple Ways to Create Meaning for the Season. You can register for the webinar HERE even though it’s already taken place. Then you can watch, learn, and be inspired by her creative wisdom!
Many worshipping communities offer Lenten devotionals for individuals and families to use. If you did not receive one, I have two recommend. For families, check out SALT Project’s “40-Day ‘Love Builds Up’ Family Challenge.” Each week includes scripture readings, actions, and spiritual practices to take on as a household. And for adults, check out Kate Bowler’s Good Enough Lent, a companion guide to her new book Good Enough. Each day includes a suggested reading from her book as well as the Bible, reflection questions, and a closing prayer.
Alissa from Little Way Chapel on Instagram curated this lovely list of books to help children better understand Lent. It’s broken down my age groups: 0-4, 4-8, and 9-12. What books would you add to her compilation?
And finally, to help young children slow down and engage the season, I commend these three simple activities from Messy Church. I imagine we could all benefit from taking an intentionally slow walk in nature, paying special attention to God at work in the world around us.