Fasten Your Seatbelts

It’s still Lent.

Lent in Wisconsin goes on longer than Lent anywhere else in the world because the seasons may change several times during the 40-day period. The first full week of Lent brought us temperatures well below zero and a couple of snowstorms. This was quickly followed by spring weather, sunny days, massive melting and the requisite man in flip-flops and shorts at Mass on the second Sunday of Lent. Winter is scheduled to make one more return, and then, when it’s finally over, the freezing rain will be here at last to usher in April and with it, Easter. One thing is for certain: We are not in a desert.

For parents, Lent drags on for various reasons. One night awake with a crying baby counts for several days; anguish over a teen’s poor choices can eclipse weeks at a time; and the endless laundry can make us forget there might be any higher purpose than simply wondering why there are so many leftover socks when the pairing is done.

Yet, the middle of Lent is a good time to return to Lent if we forgot it was happening. The beauty of Lent is its length. Lent is long enough that we have the opportunity to both fall and get up. Jesus himself fell three times, and that was in just one afternoon. If our fast from sweets was broken by a renegade sleeve of Girl Scout cookies, so be it. Tomorrow is another day of Lent. We start again.

The middle of Lent is a time to consider what God actually asks of us. “Return to me with your whole heart.” If the beginning of Lent can feel like a glorified New Year’s resolution, the middle of Lent can pull us deeper into our faith; it can be a time to admit that we are not in control. The middle of Lent can be a time to examine where God is leading us; to explore what would be entailed in returning our hearts to God. And as we look at how we (often unintentionally) block ourselves from God, we may have a better sense of what we need to either remove from our lives or what practices we need to start, so we can return to God more wholeheartedly, more able to listen, more able to respond, by Easter. 

The following are Lenten ideas that give a contemporary twist to the three ancient practices of Lenten almsgiving, fasting and prayer. Ideas come from parents who used them in the last few years, and these parents were quick to mention that they fell along the way with the practices. They all also said, though, that they came to Easter knowing they were closer to God than they were in the beginning of Lent.

Lenten Notes: “Last year, each day of Lent, I mailed a short note to someone important in my life, telling them what they meant to me,” said Amy, a mother of three. “I didn’t plan out who I was going to send the note to and I didn’t worry if it was fair to write to one person and not another. I just sat down to write and asked God to inspire me. Sometimes, I was surprised at who popped into my head. By Easter, I was filled with gratitude for the people in my life. The notes meant so much to the people who received them. It was the most satisfying thing I’ve ever done for Lent.”

Daily Meditation: “I downloaded the Hallow app to my phone and committed to using it for prayer each day before work,” said John, a father of two. “I found that I needed a ‘go-to’ prayer source that I could use each day to give me direction. Starting my day with even three minutes of prayer centered me.”

Donating: “We had been struggling as a family with a cluttered house and it occurred to me that maybe the problem was that we owned more than we actually needed,” said Elizabeth, a mother of three. “We started our Saturday with a family prayer for all the people who our clothes and household items would go to, then we spent several hours filling boxes. The kids got enthusiastic about the process, as we explained how hard it was for some families to afford clothes or toys. I was moved by their generosity. We took our donations to the House of Peace and the kids helped unload the car. The staff was incredibly grateful and they told us about the people who our goods would help.”

With a few more weeks of Lent to go, I hope to turn up the heat on my own Lenten promises, knowing part of Lent is the inevitable fall; the fail that keeps us humble and helps us to remember that Lent is more than a resolution — it is a returning of the heart to where it rightly belongs. Lent is all about movement — toward all that is God; toward all that is holy; all that we are called to be. And a sleeve of Girl Scout cookies can’t stop that.