Most people think of two times they ought to make an effort to alter their absenteeism from church — Christmas and Easter. But there’s another. If you’ve slipped away from regular church attendance, or perhaps it was never part of your family tradition, Lent is a good time to recommit.
Historically, Lent is a season of penitential observance. That’s not something humans excel at. Seldom do we stop and spend time intentionally waiting and reflecting on our lives and actions. We’re unable to quiet our minds, or to be bored without picking up our phones to aimlessly scroll through Instagram yet again.
This isn’t a positive development for our brains, nor for our families. Envisioning unachieveable temporal perfection doesn’t make us more content, and it doesn’t make our kids better suited for the inevitable moments when gratification needs to be delayed.
Perhaps this is why, for so many faith traditions, Lent went somewhat quietly to the side in recent decades. Waiting and marking time with focused meditation and study on Christ’s darkest hours and most intense suffering doesn’t have the same appeal as the big feast and the joyous Resurrection. There’s no triumphant celebration, no cause for one big family meal and gathering, and no quick way to go back to your normal life.
Lent instead lingers. It lasts for weeks, requiring patience and a commitment that spans not hours or days but more than a month. For a culture unable to keep a New Year’s resolution much past an exuberant Facebook post, the idea of purposefully giving something up, or even just participating in such a long church season, is more than a little bewildering. Isn’t it better to just skip to the festivities of Easter, to the cute children hunting for eggs full of candy and coins, and the tasty meal?
Delay the Gratification For a Time
Lent defies this and instead asks for something completely different. In liturgical traditions, where Lenten services never really went away even if they went slightly out of vogue, this season includes extra midweek services, and often meals together. Eating food together—a literal breaking of bread—is a hallmark that spans back to the earliest days of the church. People came together and shared everything they had, keeping all things in common. We don’t do that now, but we can share our soups and our salads, and sit and talk about our lives together before going to church.
It’s often inconvenient to go to church during the middle of the week, at night, when it’s dark out, if we’re being strictly honest. Many other things normally happen during that time. Sports teams practice, and homework really needs to be done. There are chores, too, if we don’t want our homes to look like an episode of “Hoarders.” Something else always asks for our time, and another commitment that we could make instead of showing our children and ourselves that our spiritual life does matter more than anything else.
Every action we take builds upon another, and every year of choices we make with our families teaches our kids something. When we stay home because midweek services are inconvenient with bedtimes and homework and catching up with TV or sleep, we’re instructing our children just as surely as if we were sitting them down and telling them that church isn’t that important. It only matters to go when it fits into your schedule neatly. It’s only really worth going when you can get something out of it, like networking with your boss, or looking for a new babysitter.
It’s Time to Recommit to Life’s Real Priorities
When church is the bottom of the priority list for families when children are young, it should not surprise parents that church becomes the bottom of their children’s priority list when they’re old enough to choose. Since it was more important to do other things when they were small, it’s more important now that they’re moving into independent thought for them to spend that time with friends, or picking up a shift of part-time work, or watching TV.
This isn’t a call for hand-wringing or endless guilt, because those waste time and help no one. Rather, it’s a gentle reminder that our daily actions teach our children, and those choices speak louder than words. If you want your children to value faith, if you want church attendance to be more than something they do twice yearly to appease you, consider where church fits into the life and flow of your home now. “Train up a child in the way he should go, And when he is old he will not depart from it” (Proverbs 22:6).
Don’t look back and bemoan what can’t be changed, because the past is gone and can’t be altered. Instead, look at this new day as a new opportunity, as a fresh chance for both yourself and your family. Lent offers so much, and all of Christ’s promises in Lent are for you, and your children.