Practicing with Children

Failing Lent

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Our almost-finished coloring sheet.

–By Joanna Harader

As a parent, I failed Lent this year. Or I suppose a gracious professor might give me the “at least she tried ” D.

I did order and even print An Illustrated Lent” family devotional. It looks very nice and impressive in my three-ring binder.

We actually did the devotions on two, maybe even three occasions. We filled out the weekly commitment sheet for the first week. And we are oh-so-very-close to being done with the coloring sheet for week 4.

Do coloring sheets count as a spiritual practice when you do them while watching “Liv and Maddie”?

I do not have a good reason for failing to maintain our family Lenten practice. But I do have an excuse. Our church, which I pastor, is in the midst of discerning what to do about our space needs: Do we add on? If so, how do we get the money? Do we rent a different space? If so, which space? How much room do we need? What kind of space will help us serve God most faithfully? If we add bathrooms, who will clean them?

I’ve had congregational meetings and committee meetings, pre-meetings, post meetings, endless email discussions, and 3 a.m. insomnia. (My 11-year-old at breakfast: “Mom, why are there sticky notes all over the wall?”) My usually part-time job has been running into full time territory—and I don’t even clock in for the insomnia and oh-so-sexy church politics pillow talks.

So we didn’t make it all the way through our family Lenten devotional. And I feel like a failure of a Practicing Families parent. When I realized I was supposed to write a “Practicing with Children” column this week, I thought I should probably find another parent to write it—one who is actually doing spiritual practices with their children.

Then yesterday morning I found my daughter looking at the sketch of a possible church building addition—the one I had left on the kitchen table after Sunday’s good but exhausting congregational meeting. As she ate her breakfast, she traced the lines to figure out where our current space is on the drawing and what would be new. “Will this cover our garden?” she wanted to know. “Can you really fit 96 chairs in here? I think we’d be crowded.”

It dawned on me that my daughter really cares about the church. She views it as her church

and she is interested in what happens to the building—and the people.

Because the church is my job, I tend to forget that it is also a spiritual practice. Weekly worship and Sunday School are spiritual practices. Having other church families over to eat and play at our house is a spiritual practice. Even talking about supporting walls and extra bathrooms and construction loans can be a spiritual practice.

I may not have done the Lenten devotionals consistently, and our coloring sheets may not be all colored in. But I did spend a lot of time during Lent talking about my vision for the church and what the possibilities are and how to stay patient with people at church and how to help us all listen to each other in the midst of difficult discussions. I didn’t necessarily talk about all of these things with my children. But they heard—probably more than I realize.

By the grace of God, perhaps even my Lenten failures have helped my children better understand one of the most important spiritual practices—being part of a church community.

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2 thoughts on “Failing Lent

  1. Haha – I also have the Illustrated Lent in a three-ring binder and I didn’t even crack it. And is coloring with your daughter a spiritual practice when it’s my little pony and we’re watching British people baking delicious cakes on Netflix? Maybe not. I guess I’m a failure too.

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