Like all families, school mornings can sometimes resemble battlefields in my house. I have young children and there can be a lot of shouting and fighting, usually about who is or is not allowed in whose room. Signs are drawn up and put on the bedroom doors.
“Dont kum in. Dylans room. Privit. Keep ut.”
And my personal favourite:
Once the boys have shouted at each other long enough I invariably join the fray in a loud [necessary to be heard over the noise they are making] attempt [fruitless] to dissipate the testosterone.
I shout. They shout more. I send them each to their room. Everyone gets upset.
Then we all pile into the car to get to school in various states of undress. Since I spend my mornings getting three children dressed, the undressed one is usually me. I have been known to put my skirt on upside down so that it falls down when I walk. (True Story).
All before 8AM.
Last week the boys were learning about Lent at school. In the time leading up to Lent they had to write down something they would like to give up or incorporate into their lives for the Lenten period.
Inexplicably Nathan said he’d try eating more celery, the worst torture imaginable. (I pointed out that Lent was not designed to cause misery). Catholic guilt must be rubbing off on him.
Dylan decided he would try listening to his parents. Wise boy. Definitely going to Heaven.
With the idea of Lent as a period of change freshly planted in their beautiful minds, I decided we should work with it to our advantage.
I suggested we abandon the celery, and that instead, for Lent, all three of us try to give up shouting at each other. Instead of shouting, we could all try taking a deep breath, and inviting Jesus into that moment of anger and frustration. In other words, be mindful of when we all started shouting, notice the beginning of the descent into madness, pause, and try a peaceful loving route instead.
I promised I’d give it my very best shot as apparently I am the worst culprit in the family. Really? Am I? Do I shout at you that often?
A resounding yes.
So that was our Lenten pledge. And I thought I’d share the enlightening conversation with God about parenting that took place on the very first day I tried it out.
Day 1 of Lent: Thursday Morning
The very second I walked away to get myself ready, having been up an hour and seen to everyone else’s needs, the boys began their usual morning battle.
It’s a territorial war that covers their respective bedrooms and the bathroom they share. It’s all about rights to resources (adequate supply of socks, undies, shirts); facilities (sink, toilet, shower) and space (their own rooms).
I was just about to storm down the passage in my knickers and shout at them when I remembered it was the first day of Lent, and I was giving up shouting.
Me: Well there’s not bloody use inviting Jesus into this space. He never had children. He doesn’t understand kids driving you mad fighting unnecessarily over things that don’t matter anyway. What good will inviting Jesus into this morning’s fray possibly do?
GOD: Actually Philippa, I have a lot of children. I’ve had about 107 billion altogether so far. I know EXACTLY how it feels to have to listen to them fight and scream at each other. I know exactly how frustrating it is to watch them warring it out over futile things.
Me: Aaaah. This is a bit embarrassing. Sorry God. Didn’t realise you were actually listening. I actually forgot all about your children.
So what would you advise then, in this moment, regarding my two terrorists? (Quick recovery on my part I thought).
GOD: I used to lose my temper just like you do.
There was the whole flood thing. A bit of an overreaction if ever I’ve had one, but man I was furious with the lot of them.
And I did leave my children wandering in the desert for 40 years. I was super angry that time.
And there are one or two other events that I’ve never publicly claimed responsibility for but I can tell you they were not pretty.
Then one day I had an epiphany. They are just children. They really aren’t capable of meeting my expectations. They never will. And I love them so much. (They are especially cute when they’re asleep I always say).
They are just children. They really aren’t capable of meeting my expectations. They never will. And I just love them so much.
I thought about it and I realised I needed a new strategy. I needed to show them how to behave. Give them a first-hand account of the right way to live in a way that will work for all of them.
I needed a teacher to teach them what to value, what to strive for, how to love. I needed to think of a new way to make them understand that if they live my way, follow my rules, then their lives will be better. I needed someone else to teach my children that if they stopped fighting amongst themselves over earthy things that won’t last, their lives could be so much more joyful, harmonious and peaceful.
Me: Like a German Au Pair?
GOD: Too unreliable.
You know, I have heaps and heaps of gifts ready to give them, if they’d just stop fighting long enough to receive them. And I have more than enough space and provisions set aside for all of them. What kind of father would I be if I didn’t? But just like your kids, they are so intent on fighting over one pair of socks they don’t realise there’s a whole drawer overflowing with socks behind them.
That’s when I decided to offer Jesus the role of teacher, Rabbi. He did exactly what I wanted him to. He is the example I needed to send.
Now, when they fight, and scream at each other, and kick and punch and slam doors I do still get upset. I get a bit tense sometimes if I’m really honest because I can’t stand seeing my house messed up so badly. It will take me hours to tidy up the mess they make.
We have a saying in our family, “It’s too soon for a flood.” Cracks me up every time. But when I look at the state of things I can still get a bit worked up. When that happens Jesus reminds me that he’s got this, he’s there, and I don’t need to get quite so worked up. Which is lucky really.
So I leave it to Him. He assures me He has it all under control, and I trust him.
What is Lent?
You may have noticed otherwise ordinary looking people wandering around with black smudges on their foreheads last week.
Those black smudges are actually made of Ash, which was collected from the burned palm leaves from last year’s Palm Sunday (That’s another story) ceremony. The palms are burned and mixed up (sometimes with oil or water that has been prayed over by a priest or a minister) and used to mark the foreheads of people who line up in front of their priest or minister to be blessed.
For those who don’t know quite what that means, Ash Wednesday marks first day of the 40 days of Lent. Most people know about Easter, and Lent is the period before Easter when Christians figuratively and symbolically make room for Christ. The idea is that by making a conscious effort to give up something, you can make a conscious effort to focus on Christ in that feeling of deprivation.
Everyone knows about the Last Supper because of Leonardo Da Vinci’s famous painting. The Last Supper took place the day before Jesus was arrested and crucified. Good Friday is the day that commemorates the crucifixion, and the night before, Thursday, is when the Last Supper is remembered. Thursday night marks the end of Lent, and the beginning of Easter.
And everyone knows about Easter because of the Easter Bunny and the millions of Easter eggs worldwide.
But for the strange among us who give more weight to Easter than just the kilograms we put on eating chocolate, Lent is a deeply spiritual time set aside for meditation, prayer and introspection. As strange as the practice sounds to non-believers, simply put, Lent is an annual period of mindfulness for people who buy into Christ’s teachings on how to live a good life.
It can be compared to the period of Ramadan observed by Muslims worldwide in the ninth month of the Islamic calendar. Ramadan is a month of fasting to commemorate the first revelation of the Quran to Muhammad according to Islamic belief. The month lasts 29–30 days based on the visual sightings of the crescent moon.
Just like Easter is a celebratory end to Lent, Eid or the festival of breaking of fast the marks the end of Ramadan.
The time of Lent connects us to humanity far removed from popular culture of the 21st century. In this fast changing digitally savvy hyper-connected world it is comforting to remember the religious calendars that mark Ramadan and Lent predate the ones we adhere to today. Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Teacher’s Day, World plant a tree day… these are fairly recent additions to humanity’s outlook calendar.
Since the earliest times of the Christian Church, there is evidence of some kind of Lenten preparation for Easter. For instance, St. Irenaeus (AD203) wrote to Pope St. Victor I about the fasting period leading up to Easter. Ramadan started in about AD610.
Today everyone approaches Lent differently, and I’m convinced God doesn’t mind too much about how one observes Lent.
I have a hunch he is very pleased to receive a friend request.