This year, I’ve worked hard to help my little ones understand the holidays. Thanksgiving, Christmas. Birthdays. In November, I designed a Thanksgiving and bought 60 small leaves in fall colors. My husband, son, and I practiced recounting one thing each day that we were thankful for, adding leaves to the branches and counting down the days. While other trees were losing their leaves, ours blossomed until we celebrated all those good things together with extended family (and turkey) .
In December, we had an advent calendar and an advent wreath and read stories about Mary and Joseph and Jesus. We talked about how Christmas was like Jesus’ birthday and how we give gifts, just like on other birthdays. We named all the gifts that God has given to us. (And most of all, Jesus, right? My three-year-old always repeated in his earnest, lisping voice.)We watched the VeggieTales The Story of Saint Nicholas. We lit the candles each week and Jacob squealed with delight when we got to the pink one (his favorite color). Then stared reflectively into the flame as I recounted – again – how Jesus came to save us from all the bad things in our hearts and in the world.
But Easter? How to explain the depths and necessity and darkness and light of this holiday to a child? A God-man who was born into the world, died a horrible death, and then became alive again? A Father-God who absorbed all the debt we owe for our wrongdoing in order to let us live free of its burden? Something that I myself often struggle to understand and to believe?
I’m tempted to gloss over Easter, not worry so much about Lent.
I also feel tired from the Fall and Winter holidays (it doesn’t help that we also celebrate my son’s birthday, my birthday, and throw a big New Year’s Party in those same few months). I feel unable to think creatively about Easter and it’s significance.
I don’t just want to gloss over it. This is, after all, the celebration of possibly the most important event in Christianity.
“And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith.”
Paul’s words to the Corinthian church (in 1 Corinthians 15:14)
So am I going to let Hallmark’s bunnies and neighborhood egg hunts and my own exhaustion overshadow the death and resurrection of Jesus? Overshadow the weight of our sin and the boundlessness of His love?
Today is Ash Wednesday. The day when we are all reminded that we are made of dust, and to dust shall return. The day when we are reminded that, out of the ruins of this world, the cross rises. That in the brokenness, there is hope. It’s when Christians gather to sing songs of our sin and our need for Christ, of our helplessness and the profound goodness of what we have.
Lent, like Advent, is a time of waiting. It’s the forty days between Ash Wednesday and Easter. For forty days Jesus wandered in the desert, fasting and praying and drawing close to God.
We need this, too.
Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you.
James 4: 6-8
In high school, I used to fast from listening to the radio in the car during Lent. Everyone — I did grow up in Texas, after all – used to talk about what they were “giving up for Lent.”
Chocolate. Going to the movies. Frozen yogurt. Television.
(I’m sure Facebook, too, had it existed back in the dark ages.)
But I don’t think it should be just about the giving up. Yes, Jesus gave up much during his time in the desert. He was tempted, during that time, to give up on God. But he did not give up. He prayed. He relied on God.
Jesus simplified his life so that he could focus on the most important thing: God. His nearness to, reliance on, satisfaction in, and relationship with God.
It’s okay that I feel too tired to “do something” elaborate for Lent. God just wants me to draw near to Him. To rely on Him. He wants me to put away the distractions and give Him my heart.
(I still have a few things I will offer up as my own sacrifices to God – to make more time for God, and to help me remember, daily, Jesus’ sacrifice for us. And I’m still going to think about how to explain all of this to my three-year-old. But I know that even if I fail miserably at all of these things – if I draw near to God, He will draw near to me.)