Traditionally, Lent is the forty days before Easter when we contemplate God's goodness, and His unfathomable sacrifice: Not only did he come to earth and walk among us; he died in the most gruesome and painful way possible, in full payment for our sins, and for the sins of the whole world.
Explaining this to a three-year-old, however, can be a bit tricky. As we were on our way out of church the other day, Sarah pointed to the life-size crucifix that adorns the "cry room"/day chapel wall. "Jesus died on the cross?" she said to me, her brown eyes wide and concerned. "Did Jesus cry?"
Now, I'm still a novice parent, but even I knew this was not the time to delve into the gory details of a crucifixion. "Jesus cries when we do bad things. That's because when we sin we get dirty inside, and God can't be with us the way he wants to. God can't live in a dirty house."
"Yes, Jesus died. First he came to earth to show us how to get close to God again. Then he died for our sins, so one day we can live forever with God."
Miraculously, this seemed to satisfy Sarah.
Today, five-year-old Christopher wanted to know why we had to go to church in the middle of the week. "Today is the first day of Lent," I explained. "We do things during Lent that we don't do at other times of the year. For example, we might give up something we really like, to thank Jesus for giving up his life for us. We might do something for someone else, to share God's love with him or her. Tonight we will go to the church, and the priest will put a dot of ashes on our foreheads."
"Ashes are like a bit of dirt, and they remind us of how sin makes us dirty -- but we are made clean because of Jesus' sacrifice, through the sacraments."
What I did not tell Christopher was that Lent is also a time for a self-check, to see how far we've progressed on the road to holiness. To be honest, I still have more than a few significant "speed bumps."
So this Lent, I resolve...
To turn off the television, especially during the day when I like to have it on for "noise." Instead, I will practice the art of silence.
To simplify my world, a la "Fly Lady," by sorting through my house until everything we use has a place, and everything else is sold, given, tossed, or stored away.
To walk a little, every day.
To whisper every time I am tempted to yell. (Christopher's counsellor assures me that it will be easier to communicate with my kids when I am the calmest and slowest-speaking person in the room.)
To pray each night with my family.
A tall order, I know. Talk about a "virtual makeover"! I'll keep you posted.