Celebrating Lent with your Family

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Unlike most people in our church, I did not grow up Catholic so Lent was an unknown to me until I became an adult. For those of you who did, you might remember the traditions of eating fish on Fridays or giving up something for Lent like chocolate, or television (God forbid), or your smart-alec brother who declared that he was going to give up homework. Not many parents in an evangelical church like ours give serious thought to celebrating Lent, but that is exactly what I would like you to consider.

Contrary to some of our experiences, Lent is not a “works thing”, an attempt to win God’s favor by offering him a sacrifice. You know, if you give up chocolate then God will cause your kids to behave. If you make the supreme sacrifice and give up Dunkin’ Donuts coffee or gasp, the Red Sox, well you can expect God to provide with the funds to go on that cruise you always wanted to.  If that was what Lent was about, I wouldn’t want to celebrate it either.

Lent, at its heart, is about what Christ has done.  It is not about what we do. Immediately after Jesus was baptized, the gospels tell us that he as driven out into the desert where he fasted and was tempted by Satan for forty days. For this reason, Lent runs for forty days beginning with Ash Wednesday and ending with Good Friday and Easter. The season of Lent was created to remind us of what Jesus did for us during those forty days.

He entered the desert. He went without food. He was tempted by Satan. He overcame that temptation and he did it for us.  That is the essence of Lent. And it is a part of the gospel we often forget. We remember the fact that Jesus died for our sin.  He bore our punishment so that we might be forgiven. But that is only half of the gospel. A fuller understanding of the gospel is something like this:

  • Jesus died the death that I should have died so that I might live.
  • Jesus lived the life that I should have lived, but didn’t, so that I might receive the blessings of God he earned for me.

When we remember this, Lent takes on a whole new meaning. We give stuff up for Lent, not to impress God, but to remind ourselves of all that Jesus gave up for us. When I give up something I crave, I remember the hunger pains that Jesus experienced in the desert as he resisted Satan’s temptations for me.

So with this new understanding in mind, think about how you could incorporate these simple Lenten traditions in the life of your family.

Giving up and Taking on

Robert Webber in his book, Ancient-Future Time, makes the point that Lent was never solely about giving something up, it was giving something up in order to take on something important. It is about simplifying in order to create room for us to connect to God and to love our neighbor. That’s why for thousands of years, the church encouraged its members to fast (give something up), pray AND give to the poor (take on something good).

Fasting

Encourage each person in your family to give up something significant for the season of Lent. It could be something that costs you money (deserts, McDonald’s, Chuck-E-Cheese, coffee) or time (video games, Facebook, television, sports watching).  Remind your family that we don’t do this to get God’s love, rather it reminds us of the love that drove Jesus to give up food for forty days and the temptation he overcame for our sakes.

Prayer and giving to the poor

As was said before, Lent is not simply about giving up something, it is giving up in order to create space to take on something good. As your family gives up significant things during Lent, there will be time freed up and money that will be saved. Ask your children to find a local charity or a needy family that you could contribute time and money to.

There are a lot of great local option. Here are a few: A Woman’s Concern, Mobile Loaves and Fishes, the Tolupan Project, the Branch Community Supper (Soup Kitchen in Fall River – see the deacons).  If you have a great local charity share it with us by posting a comment.

Sharing your ideas

Do you have any ideas for families that you would like to share? Post a comment. We’d love to hear from you.


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Prayer: Surrendering to God’s Dreams for your Children

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Jacob wrestles with the Angel of the LORD.

Jacob wrestles with the Angel of the LORD.

The are certain prayers that flow naturally out of a parent’s heart.  We want our kids to be safe.  We want them to do well in school.  We root for them to make the team.  We pray that they get into college.  We want them to have lots of friends. We hope that they find the right spouse and avoid falling for that person that reminds you too much of yourself.  We’ve all prayed prayers of self-preservation, ‘LORD change them.  Make them behave.  Make them listen to me.  Turn them away from the path of self-destruction.’ We didn’t learn these sorts of desperate prayers in a parenting class.  They are inspired by our compassion for our children and a desire to live our lives without popping heartburn medication and anti-depressants.

But what if God’s plans for our children go deeper than a life of happiness, success, safety, and good behavior?   How would that challenge the way we pray? Think about the opening words of Jesus’ prayer: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.  Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”  There is surrender in those words.  Our dreams for our children contain visions of peace, happiness, love, success, and behavior, but God’s dream is deeper, stronger, darker, but more compelling.  When we pray, we are not only acknowledging our powerlessness, we are surrendering our dreams for God’s dreams for our children.  ‘Your will, not my will, be done on earth as it is in heaven.’

So what does God value more than safety, success, and happiness?  Paul captures God’s dream in Romans 8:28:

Romans 8:28 And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.

So what is this good that God works in all things in our lives and in the lives of our children?  Paul writes:

Romans 8:29 For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of His Son …

Here is God’s dream for your child, that they become like Jesus.  The hope this passage gives us is not that God will make lemonade out of the lemons of our lives.  Rather, that God will use your child’s successes, failures, sins, triumphs, joys, and sorrows to deepen their faith and mold them into the image of God’s Son, Jesus.  The truth is, only God knows what your child needs to make this happen.

It was Peter’s public failure where he denied Christ three times that broke his heart open to God.  For Abraham, following God meant leaving his family for a far-off country from which he would never return.  Mary’s journey with God took her through the terrifying experience of a teenage pregnancy. David’s best moment came not after his triumphs, but after his greatest moral failure, his adultery with Bathsheba and the ensuing cover-up (see Psalm 51).  Jacob became a true man by wrestling with God and he walked with a limp for the rest of his life.

We surrender to God in prayer, not because we believe that he protect our children from disappointment, failure, and pain, but because we believe that God can and will work through all these struggles to make our children like Jesus.  Think of this: what if God answered our natural prayers?  What if our kids sailed through life with the perfect marriage, the successful career, and the sterling public reputation, but they were never brought to the place where they were confronted by their need for Christ?  What if they our children are so satisfied with this life, that they lose their desire for the next one?

Prayer, at its heart, is a terrifying surrender to the will of God.  It is owning God’s dreams for our children and abandoning our own. How can we take such a step of faith? Our thoughts go to the Garden of Gethsemane where Jesus prayed with sweat pouring off him like drops of blood.  He has the option of walking away from the cross, but instead he prays:

Luke 22:42 Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will but yours be done.

Prayer and Powerless Parenting

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Mark 4:26 This is what the kingdom of God is like. A man scatters seed on the ground. Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know why.

Paul Miller in his book, A Praying Life, argues that the greatest thing a parent can do for their children is to pray for them.  I used to think that was a cop out.  I’ll resign myself to prayer because nothing else seems to be working.  I refuse to believe that I am that powerless.  But what if we are?

My greatest fear as a parent is that my children will not believe the gospel and not follow Christ.  What happens if my son and daughter comes to the end of their life without surrendering to Christ?  Then what? That question leads to these kinds of fears.  What if I am failing my kids?  Are there things I should be doing that will “make them” believe the gospel? If only I set a better example for them and wasn’t so short tempered.  Will it be my fault if they grow up to be unbelievers?

I believe these types of fears and self-doubt mask our deepest fear that we as parents are unable to control our children’s decision to believe the gospel.  Here is what Paul Miller writes about coming to that realization:

[Emily – Paul’s daughter] walked a little ahead of me, so I slowed down and prayed, ‘God you have got to give Emily faith this year.  You have no choice.’  I was keenly aware of my inability to grow faith in her heart.  God just had to do it … Was this a name-it-and-claim-it-prayer? No, I wasn’t trying to control God.  I certainly wasn’t in control of Emily.  I was simply praying God’s own heart back to him.

At the heart of prayer is a surrendering to our powerlessness, not to give up, but to tap into a power source that is greater than ourselves.  I am convinced that we can not parent our kids effectively until we allow God to bring us to this place.  It is only in the place of powerlessness and desperation where true prayer can emerge.

Jesus compared the kingdom of God to a garden and gardener..  A gardener tills the soil, plants the seeds, pulls weeds, puts down fertilizer, and does pest control.  While he works hard to create the conditions  for life to flourish, the power to create life is beyond his control.  We as parents provide a stable home, model the Christian faith, correct our kids, bring them to church, teach the faith in our homes and pray with them. We do our best to create an environment to foster faith.  But the ability to create faith is no more within our grasp, than a gardener is able to coax life out of a dead seed.  We put in the effort, we pour in the love, but it is God who supplies the power.

The farmer plants the seed and tills the ground but at the end of the day he must pray to the LORD of the harvest to cause the seed to germinate and  to send the rains and the sun.  And so it is with us.  Through prayer we surrender to our powerlessness, so that by faith we might believe that God can and will channel his power through imperfect people likes us so that in our weakness we might be the gospel for our children.

It was Paul who came face to face with his powerlessness when he met Jesus on the road to Damascus.  After a lifetime of effort, Jesus asks him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me.”  (see Acts 9) In that moment self-reliant Saul died only to be resurrected as weak Paul who lived by a new and greater power.   Paul writes this of his experience.

2 Corinthians 12:19 But [God] said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.

Could it be that parenting is our own Damascus road experience where God confronts us with our powerlessness, forces us to our knees, and moves into a new joy where we discover God’s power shining through our weakness?  Maybe that’s the point.