Usually Lent sneaks up on me, and WHAM- we’re in it, without my having much chance to think ahead to it. To plan, as it were. Perhaps my absurd surprise (at this season that happens every year? Seriously?) is a side effect of my love of Epiphany. Whatever the cause- my heart or my shoes-Ash Wednesday often finds me scrambling.
This year, I have two advantages over years past. One: Epiphany was long this year. I had almost two months to celebrate the season of winter’s Light traveling forth into the world. Two: I had in my hands a copy of Let Us Keep the Feast: Epiphany and Lent. Cate MacDonald’s thoughtful chapter on Lent was a help to me.
My kids were talking about Lent in the car recently. Owen remembered his Lego Fast, during which he “lasted” only five days before caving in to play with his favorite toy. The children were eager to recommend fasts to one another: “You should give up chocolate chip cookies!” and “You should give up books!” (Apparently they remembered by recounting the story of Lauren Winter’s Lenten fast from her chapter –I think- from Girl Meets God.) I was at a loss to think how to move them from a concept as a fast as punitive or fasting for the sake of fasting, to a real fast, which would clear away cobwebs in our heart to let us hear God better.
Cate MacDonald’s chapter focuses on Isaiah 58. Isaiah apparently had the same struggle with Israel as I am having with my children (and to be honest, with myself.)
It appears in this passage that the Lord has chosen a fast that is, in a way, no fast at all. He does not tell us what to give up, but instead what to do. The fast the Lord has chosen is charity, justice, and generosity. The fasting itself is irrelevant- or at least it could be, depending on how you use it.
So I think we will be memorizing Isaiah 58:1-9 and talking about God’s idea of fast. Some of us may choose also to do a more physical fast. I think I will pick up a prayer discipline of some sort. And we will talk as a family about how to reach out to the refugees in our backyard, and pray through how God would have us respond to the hungry, the homeless poor and the naked in our midst.
If you are looking for a more structured way to prepare your family’s hearts for Holy Week and Easter, I recommend Ann Voskamp’s Trail to the Tree (with fewer than 40 days of meditations, so that you can start “late” and still complete the story before Easter). But let’s be real: it’s never too late to start, and a small change in my heart is still a change from where I was yesterday. Owen’s “failed” Lego Fast- and my many “failed” fasts over many years- are not failures. They are windows into my need for God, and opportunities to begin again.