I am so excited about a new writing opportunity that presented itself to me recently. I graduated with an MA in Spiritual Formation and Leadership at Spring Arbor University last May and our alumni group has just started a blog. Here you will find book reviews and other discussions started by fellow graduates on spiritual formation topics.
Please join our discussion here… or at the Spring Arbor blog.
French Fries and Family Formation
I love new words; big giant vocabulary words that sometimes I really wonder if I am using correctly. I am a wordsmith, a talker, a writer, a reader, and a sometimes philosopher who is fluent in Christianese. However, I have four kids ranging in ages from 2-12, so my words often need to be broken down into their least common denominator. This is a story of how we are experiencing Lent in everyday language.
When I started thinking about Lent and how to incorporate my family into the process I went about it by thinking of all the things I wanted to give up for our family so that this could be the most Meaningful Lent Ever. A bit religiously ambitious, you might say. My first presentation to my family went something like this:
I think it would be very beneficial for us to fast from media in order to pursue other interests that are more life giving. Then everyday we can think of how we are noticing God differently. I am thinking the Examen will be a great spiritual discipline for this.
Blink. Blink. My eight year old said “Can I fast from greasy food?” So then I went into a short and powerful message about what Lent was intended to do for us as a way of cleaning house spiritually and preparing us for the celebration of the resurrection. In fact, I pointed out, did my children know that in the early origins of Lent, it was intended to prepare new converts for baptism? Hmm? Did they? My son’s new response? “Okay. I will just fast from French fries”, to which my two year old chimed in “ I want Hot Fries!!!!!” Arg.
For my twelve-year old, fasting from media includes (but is not limited to) her smartphone. (Why do twelve year olds even need smart phones? Is this really a “smart” idea?) But in her twelve year old experience in 2012, this is the way she stays along the path of communication. She missed a movie night at a friend’s house last weekend because she missed the social media invite. That’s the way it is in some circles. So then I question my motives to eliminate all media when we are already a family that doesn’t own a television. Am I just being harsh for the sake of wanting to go big for Lent? Does Lent require following something that forces us to live separately from the rest of the world for a little while? Is it fair for us to put that onto other people, even if they are our children? Yes, no, and sometimes.
I am not here to make sure these all questions are answered, but as a parent and teacher of spirituality, I am here to make sure that the questions are allowed to be asked. To do this, I am learning to create space between my views and the views of my children. I am less offended and disappointed when they don’t “get it” yet. I don’t see this as my failure as a parent, but rather the landmark of their spiritual path. In some ways, my son’s desire to fast from greasy food was just fine and a big enough sacrifice for all of us. So I ask myself:
- How would it have helped him to just be heard and acknowledged at that point instead of lectured and corrected and put back on the path of my correctness?
- What a gift it would be for me to give my children the gift of letting them live in spiritual freedom!
- What an invitation for them to see God for themselves and seeing their own spiritual disciplines and practices as completely valuable!
This is why I am so interested in family formation. We have the ability to take the simple and the sweet and the separated and make it part of the big picture of what it looks like to talk about God in everyday language- to see God in everyday family life. I wonder if we could even bring some of this simplicity into the church at large? When I started to do some research on Lent practices, they vary dramatically from church to church and denomination to denomination. When it comes to Sunday, for example, do you still have to fast? Some say that this is a day of celebrating the bridegroom and so we do not mourn or fast. Others say that there is no reason to give something up for Lent if you are going to dabble with it again every Sunday. Some have elaborate rituals for this season and others are just starting to see what it would look like to stop eating lunch everyday as their fast.
Perhaps for Lent, we could collectively move aside our vision of correct church practices and focus instead on what everyday language we night need to experience the joy set before us on Easter? For some of us, we are living in the deeper realities of prayer and reconciliation and fasting and that is a beautiful reality. How do we share this depth simply with someone in our neighborhood who doesn’t even know Jesus? And for others, we might have only started this year to consider the idea of Lent as something valuable and practical- like giving up French fries.
Wherever this season meets you, I pray that you take hold of God’s welcoming hand outstretched to you in the days before Easter. God wants to show us a gift and He does not want us to miss it. Today there is something new to discover and notice about God in your everyday language, in your everyday life.