For anyone who wants an audio version of the Ash Wednesday liturgy and the sermon below, you can hear it below.
He’s cute, right?
I know I’m biased because he’s my kid, but I also think I can pretty objectively say that “skinna-marink-a-dink-a-doooooo” is pretty stinkin’ adorable.
I’m glad to have captured this moment on video because – if I’m being honest – the adorable moments have been few and far between these days and the full-on-three-year-old-meltdown moments have been ALWAYS. We are all on the struggle bus. Getting him dressed should be an Olympic Event. Trying to brush his teeth? It might as well be torture. And while he doesn’t appear to be suffering from malnutrition, it’s hard to be entirely convinced it isn’t a problem because he refuses to eat almost all food. Can a child survive on cereal bars and fruit snacks? I guess so.
After a particularly ugly morning at our house yesterday, my husband and I decided to meet for lunch in an effort to spend at least 20 uninterrupted minutes before our brains had shut down from the exhaustion of the day to talk about how we could come at this as a team. Life doesn’t provide nearly the time we would like to be intentional about our parenting, but it was clear yesterday that we needed to make time.
At our lunch we talked out some of the issues, and a big theme that came forward was the dynamic in our lives right now where – especially on school days – we are making a lot of demands on our little guy without allowing for many moments of connection. We move from one thing to another: breakfast, get dressed, find your shoes, brush your teeth. All the while he’s whining and begging us to read him a book, or play cars with him. In our hustling to get out the door his requests come at us as sheer manipulation and stubborn misbehavior. After work/school isn’t much better because we are making dinner and the baby is crying and we’re all tired and and and… We get more and more frustrated and he becomes more and more defiant.
Perhaps it’s obvious, but these are not the moments I videotape and put on the internet.
As we talked about it more my husband and I realized that we need to be more intentional about connecting with Sam throughout the day. We hung our heads a little bit as we both admitted that even in the moments where we aren’t trying to move to the next thing and instead we are playing cars with him, that we still aren’t very present. Our heads are full of work thoughts, our phones are always within arms reach and often in one hand. We’ll be half-engaged with the activity, watching the baby out of one eye and glancing at our email or Instagram accounts with the other.
Not surprisingly we are reaping the benefits of this inattention. Our son is standing in front of us, his requests for our time and focus getting louder and louder and louder.
So we decided to make a better effort about spending time with our kids and engaging with them in a way that allows for deeper connection. Less phone time, more talking, reading, playing. We aren’t trying to be superheroes or anything – I’m only talking about a half hour or so a day here (the kids still have to figure out how to play by themselves for crying out loud). But we want those moments to be real moments, where our kids are seen and heard and valued.
Oh, and we also decided to use stickers. But that’s less relevant in this story.
So that was yesterday. We had some sweet time with the kids last night and early today and the morning routine was a little bit easier (it was probably the stickers). While it was nice to have the morning go a little more smoothly, what was nicer still was having had more moments of connection. Those moments – even in less than 24 hours – were life-giving. Instead of remembering only the meltdowns and time outs from this morning I also remember watching my husband walk our son through a Valentines Day craft for his teacher after breakfast. Isn’t that lovely?
After the scurry of the morning was over I started to shift gears from Valentines Day to Ash Wednesday. (Unfortunate timing, really. For some reason people seem to be more focused on candy and flowers today instead of mortality and Lent).
Anyone who’s been with me in church during Lent knows that I’m not a fan. I’m not much a fan of Valentines Day either but at least it ends a lot faster. Lent goes on for a VERY LONG TIME. Every year we get to this time and I have to dig deep reset my thoughts on this season, and every year I am finally able to accept and even embrace the season while we move through it. But evidently I’m not convincing enough because as soon as we come up on Ash Wednesday again the next year I start to get grumpy and complainy about the fact that it’s Lent again. Isn’t every year a little much for this? This year is no different. It’s too soon. Lent is too long. I like miracles and mountaintop experiences and pancakes. I don’t have any emotional energy for repentance and silence and ashes.
So once again, I find myself trying to dig deep to change my attitude about this holy season.
Today, during my digging, I kept thinking of my strategy lunch with my husband yesterday. We identified a problem in our relationship with our kid. We were honest about our part in the problem. We committed to changing our behavior to enable deeper connection with our three year old.
I had to shake my head as I made the realization:
Damned if that’s not Lent in a nutshell right there.
“I invite you, therefore, in the name of the Church, to the
observance of a holy Lent, by self-examination and repentance;
by prayer, fasting, and self-denial; and by reading and
meditating on God’s holy Word.”
– from the Ash Wendesday Service, Book of Common Prayer
Lent invites us, year after year, to identify the problems in our relationship with God and in our spiritual lives, to acknowledge our part of the problem, and to commit to changing our behavior to allow for deeper connection with the Divine.
It’s humbling, really, to realize the parallels. That’s what I get for whining.
The problem in our spiritual lives is that God isn’t a three year old child. My son can (and does, daily) look at me and say, “Mommy, I’m talking to you. Are you listening to me?” And when that doesn’t work he can yell and cry and kick his feet and steal a toy from his sister and sure enough I’ll stop what I’m doing to focus my attention on him.
God, on the other hand, tends to be a little less in our faces – at least most of the time. There have certainly been moments in my life where I feel like God has made God’s will for me abundantly clear and I have no choice but to listen. But I’m talking about day in and day out. God isn’t whining and tugging on my leg trying to get me to focus on our relationship and tend to my spiritual life. God is more the “patiently waiting for me to stumble through making my own mistakes until I finally realize I can’t go this alone” kind of presence in my life. Always there, always ready, always yearning for me to realize that what I truly need to thrive is deeper connection with God, first and foremost.
And therein lies the wisdom of the church, despite my attempts to annually rebel against the institution that insists on honoring Lent each year: we need this season. Every year.
We have the opportunity each week in our liturgy to say a general Confession. To acknowledge the things we have done and things we ought not to have done. To ask for God’s forgiveness and to receive absolution.
But let’s be honest – most of us glaze through that part because we know the Peace is coming and it’s hug time. Or bathroom time. Or announcement time. I’m not sure how many of us are truly considering the ways we’ve strayed from God as we utter those words aloud.
Really the least we can do to honor Lent each year. It’s 40 days in the midst of a whole year where we constantly become lost in all of the other demands of our modern lives without making real space for right relationship with God. This is our chance to evaluate, to change our behavior, and to have a deeper connection with God that will be life-giving. Change is hard, and connection is worth the challenge.
Today we are invited into a Holy Lent. We have ashes placed on our foreheads to remind us that we are mortal, that life is short, that we make mistakes and we are given endless chances to make it right, that God is always and ever patiently waiting for our return, calling us closer whether we are able to hear that call or not. This is our chance to reconnect: not because we have to or because we’re in trouble or because the church wants us to be miserable, but because that connection brings life, peace, renewal, and endless, abundant love.
Take God out for lunch today and have a little check in. What are the problems you’re facing right now? What’s your part in it? What changes can you make in your life to live into deeper connection? Now is as good a time as any. The church might even say it’s the best time.
And if you need a sticker chart to map your progress I’m happy to help.
Skinnamarinky dinky dink
God loves you!