Into the Desert–A different way to think about Lent

I have always tried to find a better way to come at Lent with my kids.

This year is no different, as we are 1 day out and Annie is settled on giving up the monkey bars.

God bless her little heart, she loves her some monkey bars.

It’s probably too much to expect a 7-year-old to be reflective, but Gabe and Kate are now old enough to learn something from Lent.

And the idea of a token “sacrifice” of chocolate or cursing for 40 days has left me wanting more. Maybe because it was always presented to me as a small thing compared to the sacrifice Jesus made on the cross.

But what if that’s the wrong way to think about it?

Nothing I can do will ever match what Jesus did for me.

On Sunday, a solid catechism Bible Scavenger Hunt from my partner teacher Megan dropped a new way to frame Lent into my lap.

All three of the Temptation stories in the Gospels tell us Jesus went into the desert after his baptism to prepare for his ministry.

Why the desert? If the goal was solitude, why not a boat on the sea for forty days? Or a trek into the mountains?

Why the desperate, relentless austerity of the desert?

Yes, it calls back to the forty days Moses spent on the Mount before receiving the Ten Commandments and the forty years the Israelites wandered after their escape from Egypt. Jesus is tempted by the devil in the desert and refutes the temptation, staying faithful to God, in contrast to both Adam and the Israelites. There’s a whole world of theological scholarship out there about these forty days.

But I’m just a mom in front of a laptop trying to figure out a way to grow faith in my kids, so I’m going with a boots on the ground application: Jesus went into the desert so he could focus.

In the desert, there are no distractions.

We are running with that this year: Focus—not on what we’re not doing, but on removing the distractions that turn us away from our relationship with God. Making our lives more like a desert for the next 40 days.

Pack up the toys, clothes, stuff that surrounds us. Clear out the clutter. Save money by forgoing nights out, expensive dinners, new things. Use less words, especially of the cursing and gossiping kind. Spend less time online wanting what we don’t have, or what someone else has. Spend less time watching news that is designed to scare, addict, divide. Reject all the ways we are tempted, as the devil tried to tempt Jesus, by the things of this world.

Practice simplicity. Prayer. Contemplation. Fasting.

Listen for the angels who will minister to us.

Open our hearts and hands every day to the word and will of God.

This will be our Lent, our walk in the desert. I’ll let you know how it goes.

Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil.
After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry.
Matthew 4:1-2

The Want Monster

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We’ve lived in our smaller house for a year now. It’s been an adjustment, but we’ve figured it out. Mostly. Just don’t open the hallway closet.

Still, as another birthday passes and the weather turns towards Spring, my heart starts to want. More square footage. A third bathroom. A self-cleaning dog run. I cruise the MLS and Pinterest. I dream.

At some point, the wanting steps out of my heart and becomes a monster in my chest.

The Want Monster.

It is naturally in my personality to obsess, and the Want Monster needs obsession to survive. At first, it seems harmless, like I’m considering. Let’s just see, the Monster says.

But then when Common Sense kicks in, or Shea puts his foot down, the Monster roars.

Why do we have to be patient? Why do we have to wait? Now, now, now!

And that’s when the Want Monster begins to steal my joy.

Shea and I have been mostly calculated and patient financially our entire marriage. We’re planners. Right now we are in year 3 of a 5 year plan and we are on track.

In the last month, the Want Monster has tried to tell me that this life is not enough.

I know it is a lie. But once the Monster is born, it takes a minute to beat him back.

Last week, I prayed for God to ease the wanting. I don’t want to want. I don’t want to have my head turned by things away from our life, which is good and solid and manageable.

I think a lot of us struggle with the Want Monster, whether in our homes, our marriages, our jobs, our families. Someone will always have it better, or have something we think we want.

I also think it is an act of grace to be happy with what you have built, with what you have been given. God calls us to live our best lives according to His time and guided by His plan.  But best lives doesn’t relate to accumulation of things and the Want Monster is not the voice of God.

Knowing is half the battle. Prayer is the other half. This Lent, I am coming in armed for hunting monsters.

St. Joan of Arc, pray for us. 

How To Get Ready For Lent–From My Sunday School Class

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Dear Ms. Jen’s people,

We want to tell you how to get ready for Lent.

So first, read Matthew 6:1-6 and 16-18. It’s the Ash Wednesday reading in the Catholic church. It may confuse you because it’s all “Don’t let the right hand know what the left hand is doing” on a day when we walk around with ASHES ON OUR FOREHEADS, but Ms. Jen says those ashes tell the world we are sinners, not do-gooders. So it’s actually not hypocritical. And the point is that when we do good things, we do them to honor God and NOT to honor ourselves. If you give up chocolate but go around telling people you gave up chocolate, they cancel each other out.

And Lent is not just about giving something up. You can also take something on. That sounds good but we didn’t know what it meant. Ms. Jen says you can stop doing something or start doing something. Angel said “Like stop eating vegetables and start playing XBOX 1 all day long?”

Ms. Jen said no. Angel was bummed.

If you don’t know what to give up or take on, you could think about these three lines from the prayer at the end of our chapter:

Help us to work with you to bring justice, love and peace to everyone.

This could be giving up mean words, fighting with a brother or sister, talking too much at school. It could also taking on hugging someone every day, giving a compliment to someone every day or leaving an anonymous note on your teacher’s desk (you should type it because teachers are really good at figuring out handwriting and they might thank you and then everyone would think you were teacher’s pet).

Free us from being careless and lazy.

This could be making your bed, folding your laundry, setting the table, clearing the table, doing the dishes, walking the dog, cleaning your room, feeding the dog, cleaning the toilets and so on.

(Really, we only came up with the first three and then Ms. Jen and Ms. Elena, her helper who is also Joseph’s mom, took the markers away from us and kept making the list longer)

Keep us from being blind to goodness.

This could be things like giving up regular music and listening to Christian music, or not playing that one violent video game. Maybe turning off the news or Facebook. This one was weird for us because why is it hard to see goodness? Ms. Jen said it’s more of a grown-up problem.

After you pick something, you should think of someone in your life who made a sacrifice for you. Then you could write them a letter thanking them and telling them what your sacrifice for Lent will be. This is a nice gesture, and it will also help you stick to your thing, whatever it is, because you said it to another person.

(At first we didn’t want to do this, but then Ms. Jen was all “Jesus DIED on a CROSS for you, can’t you write a letter?” It was kind of like, Oh. Yeah.)

So that’s it. Good luck!

Ms. Jen’s 4th grade Sunday School

PS: You get Sunday’s off!

PPS: From Lenten sacrifice, not church.

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Thank you to Angel, Ashleigh, Carolina, Joseph, Margaret and Blaine for such a great class on Sunday and for inspiring this post. You guys crack me up! And the future of the Church is safe in your smart, logical, artistic and kind hands.

Put the “Be Jesus” Back

Lenten reading can be hard on your soul.

It challenges and convicts. It parks your heart in the shadow of the Cross and makes you look up.

I have never been good at looking up. I don’t want to see. I tell myself it is enough to know.

Everything I read tells me that I’m wrong. My suffering has not been enough, although it has taught me so much about life and myself and fear and pain. It’s only the first step.

To truly walk where Jesus did, our suffering has to be used for someone else.

Which means I have to see. I have to look up from the foot of the cross and see.

I don’t want to read the Facebook post from my cousin’s friend who lost her six year old to cancer two years ago. On the second anniversary of her daughter’s death, she’s asking me to stand with her against pediatric cancer. I don’t want to see, because I have a sweet girl who was six two years ago. I don’t want to know that children we know get sick from cancer and die.

I want to look away and go about my business.

I don’t want to read the story about the woman in my state who tried to kill her newborn and toddler. I have to see that she is vilified in the media and the comments underneath the articles. I have to read until I see what my heart is already telling me, that she was sick, like I was sick. I don’t want to remember how that time felt to me. I don’t want to admit that she is me and I might have been her if we hadn’t made the right call, finally.

I want to look away and go about my business.

I don’t want to see pictures of drowned toddlers on the beaches in Greece, or news reports of the danger and squalor of refugee camps. I don’t want to know about the migrant camps in my own city. I don’t want to consider that in this day and age, families suffer while others turn them away. I’ll write a check or make a donation, but that’s as much as I feel I can handle. It’s a swamp of hopelessness.

I want to look away and go about my business.

But then I read this, in Richard Rohr’s Hope Against Darkness:

“When we’re not sure what is certain…we’re going to be anxious. We want to get rid of that anxiety as quickly as we can. Yet to be a good leader of anything today—to be a good pastor, a good bishop, or, I’m sure, a good father or mother—you have to be able to contain, to hold patiently a certain degree of anxiety.

(…)That’s probably why the Bible says so often ‘Do not be afraid.’”

This is me. I am not good—terrible, actually—at holding anxiety.  I do want to get rid of it as quickly as I can. I work hard to not invite it into my heart in the first place. My leadership skills are horribly limited by my anxieties. So I have convinced myself that I am safer occupying my space, and my space only. I busy myself with controlling the heck out of what I can control: my home, my family, my personal relationship with my church and my God.

Rohr says that “expelling what you can’t embrace gives you an identity, but it’s a negative identity. It’s not life energy, it’s death energy. Formulating what you are against gives you a very quick, clear and clean sense of yourself. Thus, most people fall for it. People more easily define themselves by what they are against, by who they hate, by who else is wrong, instead of by what they believe in and by whom they love.”

I’m convicted. In giving my anxieties primary place in my life—whether managing them, medicating them, avoiding them, expelling them—I have chosen not to see. If I don’t see, how can I help? Walk beside? Love?

Have I literally scared the “Be Jesus” out of myself?

There’s a reason this is in front of me now. I have no idea what it might be, but I’ll hold on patiently and wait for it. And while I do, I’ll work at replacing my fear with my faith.

Look up and see.

Hold the anxiety.

Be not afraid.

Put the “Be Jesus” back where it belongs.

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This popped up on Toby Mac’s Facebook feed as I was typing this post. Thanks to Mr. Hybels and Mr. Mac for the reminder!

 

Dinner of Champions

Paula and I lived together all through our 20s. One of our apartments was a two bedroom, one bathroom on the bottom floor of a two story building built in a mid-century style. Big, wide floor to ceiling windows in the living room and light green tile in the kitchen. We called it the cave because it was always cool and dark in that place, even in the height of summer. Of course, we were two blocks from the beach, so that helped some.

About six months after we moved in, a newly divorced young mom with two small kids moved into the apartment next to us. The kids were small, probably 2 and 4 years old. Their names were Landon and Maddy. Every day when they came home, Landon would look through the window and wave. Sometimes one of us would say “Hi, Bud” and then he’d holler to us about his picture or his game or whatever.

One night, Paula was standing in the front of the window eating from a bowl when Landon came home.

“What are you eating?” he asked her.

“Cereal.”

“You’re eating cereal for dinner?????”

He went running into his house, yelling for his mom. A big pause. Then the door opened and he stuck his head out.

“MY MOM SAYS YOU CAN’T EAT CEREAL FOR DINNER!!!” he yelled. Then he slammed the door.

Catholic kids know better. We can eat cereal for dinner. It happens all the time, like Fridays in Lent. Pancakes. Waffles. Egg sandwiches. And cereal.

Just no bacon.

And waffles are a MUCH better option then that other Catholic Friday stand-by: tuna casserole.

(My mom is screaming right now “But you LOVED tuna casserole when you were a baby!!!” Fine. But then I grew some taste buds. Just sayin’).

I use the Better Homes New Cookbook recipe for waffles, minus the cooking oil and sugar:

1 3⁄4 cups all-purpose flour

1 tablespoon baking powder

1⁄4 teaspoon salt

2 eggs

1 3⁄4 cups milk

Of course, I add the same secret ingredients as my Super Secret Saturday Pancakes: vanilla and cinnamon (we eyeball it).

Gabriel shook off my waffles the other night and had cereal and yogurt instead. Of course, I made sure Paula saw this picture. She said “Cereal: the breakfast, lunch & DINNER of champions!”

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Breakfast: It’s what’s for dinner.

The Top of the Hill

I got this one at Kohls. Gabriel quotes it at Kate sometimes, which makes me smile.

I recently watched a video by Father Robert Barron, of Word on Fire Ministries, where he used a powerful analogy to describe the difference between faith and wisdom. He said faith is crawling on the flat land, where our perspective is limited—we see what is in front of us and next to us and sometimes above us, but our vision is often blocked by structures and people and noise. God feels like a nice idea that we hope is real, but we can’t devote much time to Him because of the buildings and the noise and the people.

Wisdom is like finding the high ground, the top of the hill, where our perspective is wide and encompassing. We can breathe. It allows us to see the connections and the reasons and the sense. It helps us understand how small and many are the pieces of the puzzle, but how important.

As I watched, my mom brain kicked in: Man we have to teach this to the kids.

I don’t know about you, but having a 9 year old and a 7 year old under the same roof is not exactly a recipe for calm.

I know I kind of do it already, when I step in between and talk them out of the fierce protection of what is theirs to slooooooooooowly seeing the other person’s perspective.

Too much lately, it doesn’t work and I banish them to the basement and pour myself a vodka.

The old words are falling on deaf ears. They take too long to get out of my mouth. And require me to be too close to a child who is begging for a whoopin’ for anyone to be safe.

So yeah, new words.

Then I realized, Here comes Lent.

The ultimate reset button.

It’s the perfect time to introduce a new way of talking about how we are in the world.

Are we crawling on the ground, surrounded by tall buildings, in the shadows where it feels scary and we think everyone wants our toys?

Or are we walking to the top of the hill where we can see the whole picture? Where the air is fresher and we remember we are not the only people who want or need something?

Down below, we’re angry and defensive and selfish.

Up above, we find wisdom and grace and compassion.

It’s a lot better than giving up chocolate, if we can make it work.

 

 

 

The Moon

Have you ever been loved well by someone? So well that you are secure that person will receive you and will forgive your worst fault? That’s the kind of security the soul receives from God. When the soul lives in that kind of security, it is no longer occupied with technique. We can go back and do the rituals, the spiritual disciplines, but they are no longer idolatrously followed. We don’t condemn people who don’t do it our way. All techniques, rituals and spiritual disciplines are just fingers pointing to the moon.

But the moon is the important thing, not the pointing fingers.

~ Richard Rohr, Everything Belongs

We are entering the end of Lent and Holy Week is fast approaching. This is a Christian’s most sacred time, when all our pretensions should be stripped away, and we reach for the poor, the humble, the hurting both outside and inside ourselves.

Don’t get distracted by the pointing fingers. Everything we need is inside of us. Just look to the moon.

Because what is the moon?

A bright light shining in the darkness.

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