Well, I feel like I need to come clean: I failed.
The last time I wrote here, I told y’all about my high hopes for bringing my family along for my Lenten journey of studying scripture and looking for God-moments. I managed to keep up with my own Lenten disciplines for the most part. I fasted, I prayed, I paid attention. I read *most of* Good Enough, Kate Bowler’s new book of devotions, and its accompanying reading guide. I missed several days along the way, but in the spirit of the book, I’m reassured that my less than perfect performance was actually, well, good enough.
The discipline that didn’t quite get the traction I’d hoped — or really any traction for that matter — was reading a Bible story each morning with my two young children. My plan was to make the most of having a captive audience at the breakfast table, and I felt confident that if I left the children’s Bible in the middle of the table, we would surely keep up the practice.
On Ash Wednesday, while the boys ate their toast and yogurt, I outlined my plan. “So guys. Today is the first day of a special time when we’re getting ready and waiting for Easter. I was thinking it would be a great idea to read a Bible story every morning at breakfast.”
My six-year-old, without even looking up from his yogurt, said, “No thanks.”
A little flustered, I fumbled for a moment. “Okay, well, we can just pick one, it doesn’t have to be in order or….” I quickly thumbed through the pages, looking for something that might be an exciting beginning. Ultimately, I decided to start at the beginning, with the first New Testament story. Gabriel visits Mary. It was so short and such a cliff-hanger (no “room in the inn,” no star, no baby Jesus…) that I thought surely my kids would take the bait and ask for more. But when I wondered aloud if we should keep going, there it was again:
“No thanks, Mom.”
I tried to play it cool. “Okay, yep, just one story a day! That’s the plan. No problem. We’ll do the next one tomorrow.”
Fast forward a few “tomorrows” and my children, who usually sit through story time in rapt attention, were talking over me as I read. The most striking interruption was when my generally quiet and compliant firstborn got up and very dramatically announced, as I began to read our story du jour, that he needed to go to the bathroom. When I ignored his announcement and continued to read, he repeated himself, more loudly and more dramatically, and proceeded to disappear for several minutes.
Anyway, the point is: I quit. The Bible sat there in the middle of the table untouched for another week or two before I moved it back to the shelf, silently conceding my defeat. After two years of what I can only think to call “weird” church (first online-only and then masked/distanced/no music/no Sunday school), this moment was particularly disappointing. It wasn’t about just reading the Bible at breakfast; this was about trying to make up for lost time. I admit this may have been a bit melodramatic, but in light of everything, I began to wonder if I would ever be able to share my faith with my children, ever help them know God’s story or what it means to me.
But, mercifully, this is an Easter story, and it does not end in hopeless defeat!
On Easter Sunday, we accidentally began a new family practice: the word of the day. As my kids were squabbling while getting ready for church, I got down on their level, gently laid a hand on each of their arms and said, “Today is Easter, and the word of the day today is Love! Easter is all about love. Let’s show love to each other today!” And just like that, “love” became the word of the day for our family. For the rest of the day, anytime we started to get frustrated with someone: “remember – love!” Anytime we felt the warmth of a hug, we called it out: “Ooo! Love! Thank you, God!”
The next Sunday morning, I thought: let’s do it again! And we decided the next word of the day would be “joy.” We kept our eyes and ears open for joy all day. We sought joy and named joy and did our best to return to joy when we wandered astray. At the end of the day, when we were saying our prayers, I asked the boys: “when did you feel joy today?” And after they answered, I said something like: whenever we feel joy, God is right there.
These are small things, simple things. But I’m praying it might be enough right now to rekindle some holy sparks at home. My hope, now that we’ve accidentally begun, is to work our way through the list of Fruits of the Spirit, one a week. As of writing this, we’ve only had two words of the day, so I may yet fail again. So far, though, I have been encouraged. This sweet little Sunday habit has opened our eyes to see God in our midst. It has opened up moments of conversation and opportunities to reflect together.
We’ll get back to the big story someday. Right now, it turns out, I am happy to start a little smaller: one word at a time.
Joan A Boucher says
Thank you for sharing this wonderful story. Your perseverance and patience is inspiring. God Bless you and your family.
Melissa Parkhurst says
What a wonderful post. Very real. I know what you are talking about.
Thank you for this glimpse of family life I can relate to, for helping me be okay with modified expectations, and for your authenticity.