Every Wednesday morning at the two-day academy my children attend, the students host a bake sale. I often slip a few quarters into the kids' lunch boxes so they can grab something "special" during their lunch break, but during Lent I've told them all my children we are going to try to skip extra treats.
The news that he was going to miss out on Wednesday bake sale for the next forty days was particularly devastating for my six-year old, Christopher.
Upon this whopping realization, he stood in my kitchen, his uniform shirt untucked and his school shoes on but the laces undone, red-faced and sobbing.
"I hate Lent!" he said. "Everyone in my class gets bake sale but me! Why does it have to be Lent? It's stupid!"
Meaghan, adopting her best motherly persona, jumped in to try to talk him off the ledge.
"Toph, this is what we do as a family during Lent," she explained. "After Easter, you can go back to buying bake sale. This isn't forever."
"Yeah," Patrick followed, "It's not
big a deal."
Patrick's additional commentary was not helpful.
"It's a big deal to
" Christopher wailed as water faucet tears rolled down his face.
I listened to the discussion as I made pork loin sandwiches and stuffed them into zip lock baggies.
Frankly, I identified with Christopher's pain. I don't know why, but this year in particular, I'm struggling with my own small Lenten penances. I'm tempted daily to throw in the towel, to indulge in to the one small sacrifice I've given up for Christ, a thing that is so small it's laughable, especially when you consider Coptic Christians are being martyred on beaches because of their faith.
Saint Paul wrote the spirit is willing and the flesh is weak and I
he was talking about me when he wrote that line, so I understood Christopher's intense reaction to missing out on the bake sale.
I wanted to say, "Me too, little buddy. I want a chocolate cupcake too."
If the whole abstaining from sweets thing isn't bad enough for Christopher, when you consider there ain't nobody who likes food as much as he does, this "small" sacrifice is really a gigantic one for him.
(He had to make a poster for his religion class this week. When I asked him what he would like to include in his list of favorite things, he asked me to print off a picture of steak. So yeah... food and Christopher are simpatico.)
One of the worst things parents can do, I think, is to be too heavy handed in the way they present the faith to their children. Instead of inspiring children to chose the good, the parent--in their well intentioned but over zealous desire to "help" the child develop--is too controlling, too harsh, and too rigid when it comes to all things Catholic. The parent forgets the age of the child with which they are working and expects behavior that is unreasonable or even impossible.
This temptation is even more severe during liturgical seasons like Lent, when we want to pull out all the stops to help our kids grow in their ability to sacrifice and love God.
John and I are very aware of this tendency and we both agree about how important it is that our children experience a sense of spiritual freedom, an ability to choose the way they desire to practice their Catholic faith.
We've encouraged the kids to give something up individually for Lent, but as a family we give up sweets. For my little kids, the no sweets thing is a really big deal, so that's all I expect them to sacrifice, but I see that this penance is especially difficult for my Christopher.
As he was still crying about the bake sale, I said,
"I know this is really hard, Topher, but you get to choose. No one is making you abstain from bake sale. You can use your own money to buy something sweet, but I also want you to remember that this the sacrifice is a good thing, even if it is hard."
My words were no consolation because he reminded me again that he thought Lent was stupid.
I coaxed him out of his dismay with some breakfast.
After the morning routine of searching for missing shoes, lost books, and forced breakfasts, we piled into the hooptie and I delivered everyone to school. When I returned to collect them all that afternoon, Christopher got into the van and promptly melted down again.
He stood in front of his car seat his back as rigid as a soldier ready for battle, his fists clenched in a torrent of passion, and he yelled,
"I hate Lent! It's stupid! I hate it!"
His outburst took me off guard. I turned around to look at him and said,
is wrong? Are you still upset about the bake sale?"
"No!" he responded. "I got to pick a prize from the prize box today and I had to pick raisins! I hate raisins!"
"Why did you pick raisins and not something else?"
"The only other thing to pick was candy and it's Lent! I can't have sweets! STUPID LENT! I hate LENT!"
I started to giggle and had to turn around so he wouldn't see me.
Also, I was
he had abstained. He could have picked candy and I would never have known, but he didn't. I composed myself and then lathered great praise about his good decision. When we got home, I pulled out a bag of lolly pops I had hidden in the back of the pantry.
"You see these, Christopher? You get to give everyone one of these lolly pops on Sunday because you did the right thing. You chose the better part."
He looked down at his hands and tried to hide his smile.
It was hard for him to skip the momentary gratification, but he did it. His struggle was valuable and valiant. As his mom, I am so proud of him.
The whole event helped me see how happy God must feel about my ability to successfully withstand temptation.
He's rooting for me, just like I'm rooting for Topher.
He wants me to do hard things out of love for Him, just like I want my children to do hard things out of their love for Christ.
God sees me trying--and failing--and trying some more, and He's pleased.
And you know what?
That's a Lenten lessen I really needed.