Friday, February 08, 2008

Friday Five: What are you doing for Lent?

From our friends over at the RevGals:

1. Did you celebrate Mardi Gras and/or Ash Wednesday this week? How?
We were going to celebrate Shrove Tuesday by going to church for the annual pancake dinner that the men's group puts on, but a pretty wicked snowstorm kept us home.
As for Ash Wednesday...

...for the last two or three days, Kiddo had been looking forward to Ash Wednesday. He couldn't stop talking about going to church and having the pastor put the ashes on his forehead. He told his friends at daycare, he told his friends at preschool, and he couldn't stop telling Mommy and Daddy how excited he was about the ashes.

Our church has two Ash Wednesday services--one at 5 PM, and the other at 7. We had planned on going to the 7:00 service as a family, and I was scheduled to assist with the imposition of ashes at that service. That afternoon, though, I got a call from Sweetie--she's 8 months pregnant and had been fighting a pretty good cold--saying that she just didn't think that she'd be able to make it through a worship service.

I couldn't just take Kiddo to the 7 PM service myself, since I was going to be up front, and we knew that Kiddo would have none of sitting with someone else. And we also knew that if he didn't go to church, he'd be crushed. Sooooooo...I left work early, picked him up from daycare, and took him to the 5 PM service.

On our way, he asked, "Daddy, why will we put ashes on our forehead tonight?"


Well, we had talked about death before...the subject had first come up when we were talking about Easter some time ago...and he understood the concept that only Jesus had come back to life, but once we were dead, we would live in heaven with God, but wouldn't be alive again on earth. And, more importantly, he was fine with that understanding. So, rather than using the more generic answer of "to help us remember how much God loves us," I decided to expand it a little bit.

"It's to help us remember that even though someday we'll die, that God loves us..."

Kiddo finished my sentence for me. "...and we'll be in heaven with God. And Jesus." (I decided to hold off on dealing with his 4 year-old tritheism...all in good time.) =)

He seemed satisfied with it all. And so we got to church, and the service began. There was a responsive chanting of Psalm 51, followed by a time of confession, and then came the imposition of ashes. We were about 2/3 of the way through the psalm when suddenly, Kiddo grabbed my leg and looked up at me. His lip was trembling.

And then he began to cry. The heartrending, plaintive, authentic cry of a child in anguish.

I sat down, took him on my lap, held him close, and whispered, "what's wrong? Is the music too sad?"

Looking at me with a scared, sad, expression in his eyes, he whispered back, "I don't want the ashes on my forehead."

I was dumbstruck. This had been the highlight of his week! I asked him, "why not?"

He looked me in the eyes.

"Daddy, I don't want to die."

I almost burst into tears right then and there. Somehow in our conversation, he had internalized that having the ashes put on his forehead would make him die.

I immediately felt like the worst dad in the world. Ever. I had made my son think that he was going to die. And worst of all, that I would let him.

I held him tightly, and rocked him, and whispered assurances that this was just something to help us remember how much God loves us, and that it was not going to make us die.

As Psalm 51 came to a close and the rest of the congregation intoned "the sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise," I wiped the tears from Kiddo's eyes, and he smiled.

"Okay, Daddy. I want to remember. I want to go get the ashes now."

Later that evening, when I told the story to our pastor as we got ready for the 7:00 service, he turned to me and said, "You know, those tears meant your son gets it. In his way, he gets the meaning of Ash Wednesday better than the majority of the other people in the pews."

He was right.

2. What was your most memorable Mardi Gras/Ash Wednesday/Lent?
My most memorable Lenten season was 2005. I was at the Lutheran student Center, and the senior pastor, Larry Meyer, was losing his battle with cancer. The seminary intern and I took the lead in planning the Wednesday evening Lenten series--we used Marty Haugen's Holden Evening Prayer (as was the custom) and had a different student each week give the message on "God With Us." He and I co-led the Ash Wednesday service, and as we told each student "remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return," we did so with the knowledge that our beloved boss knew the meaning of those words more deeply than any of us in that sanctuary.

3. Did you/your church/your family celebrate Lent as a child? If not, when and how did you discover it?
Yep. I grew up with Lent as part of the road toward Easter. As a result, I can't imagine Easter without the penitential preparation of Lent. Without that time, Easter sneaks up on you as just another day. And my joy as a Christian, the hope embodied in my baptism, the assurance of death's defeat and sin's demise in the empty tomb, are too much a part of who I am to have it be just another day.

4. Are you more in the give-up camp, or the take-on camp, or somewhere in between?
I used to be squarely in the give-up camp. I found, however, that the temptation to be a self-proclaimed martyr was just too much, and every year I inevitably ended up doing the right things for the wrong reasons. When the prophet Joel wrote, "rend your hearts, not your clothing," he was speaking to how I was in college. I've found that for me, it's more useful to take on a discipline. Part of that for quite some time now has been to read the book A Skeleton in God's Closet, by Paul Maier. A good piece of Christian fiction that (aside from a poorly written side-plot love story) emphasizes the importance of the resurrection.

5. How do you plan to keep Lent this year?
We're expecting Kiddo's little sister to arrive on (or before) February 28th. My Lenten discipline this year will revolve around being the best husband and daddy I can be, especially during that first sleepless month. To do anything other than focus on the family (MY family, not James Dobson's) would be self-serving, which is exactly the opposite of what Lent is about. Sweetie's going to need all the support I can give, and as much as Kiddo's looking forward to being a big brother, he's going to need plenty of extra love too.

And of course, there will be our new little life to love and nurture.

Only 20 more days. Not that anyone's counting... =)



Muthah+ said...

Husker, Thanks for the story about your son and also the one about your pastor. I would like to share them with a couple of my parishioners. OK?

Mother Laura said...

Incredibly powerful post, especially the story about your son. Thank you.

Our kids were all born in Jan. or Feb. so we know all about giving up sleep for Lent! Many blessings to the whole family.

LutheranHusker said...

Muthah+, feel free to use both stories however you wish. Thanks!

Rev Scott said...

Damn - you went and raised up a theologian. Well done!

Reminds me of someone's sister who thought they were going to hell when they were on vacation at a mine. :-)

What a beautiful story - add me to the list of folks who will share next year.

Hot Cup Lutheran said...

what a beautiful story... last week i watched in awe as a 3 yr old purposefully marched up, held her bangs out of the way and was very serious about getting those ashes. They are more open than we know...

Coffeepastor said...

Loved the story about your son. Thanks for sharing that.

davenu said...

What a great story about your son and Ash Wednesday. Thanks for sharing that one with us.

Anonymous said...

It is amazing how much kids pick up from us. Your explanations were wonderful! I suggest you have a copy of If I should live If I should Die..CPH on hand. It is a assuring explanation about Heaven. We look forward to a wonderful Heaven when we live but know heaven will be wonderful when the time is perfect for God to call us home. I will get you the book if you don't have it!
Aunt Jan

Crimson Rambler said...

thank you, husker -- a lovely story; and hot cup, I hear you, about the bangs. I need a third hand; one for the ashes, one for the imposition, and one for the bangs...

RevAnne said...

Can't say anything more or better about your son, but wow, what a great kid. What a great story.
I've loved that book for glad I'm not the only one. And I agree entirely about the love plotline!

krugie23 said...

That's a great story of your son! My son wanted the ashes too, then didn't. I just think he didn't want to get dirty. =) Thanks for sharing!