Lent is not something I grew up observing. Coming from a Protestant family that embodies a patchwork quilt of denominations, we celebrated the life and death and resurrection of Jesus, but we never observed the 40 days of self-denial that is Lent. As an adult, I have occasionally observed Lent, usually giving up something trivial because, well, it was expected.
This year, however, I have decided to embrace Lent. My heart yearns for Christ and I feel I need, more than ever, the reminder of how small I am and how big He is. I did some soul searching about Lent this year, trying to decide what I would give up. The usual suspects came up: Facebook (won't work--I'm in the middle of a social media campaign for Easter called Forget the Frock), alcohol, desserts, etc. For many reasons, though, none of these resonated with me. They were all things I enjoyed, yes, and I would have been making a sacrifice, but it wasn't anything that was heart-changing or life-altering: it was sacrifice purely for sport. And this year, I wanted more.
Mardi Gras rolled around, and I had planned to make a fun meal of chicken and sausage gumbo and treat the kids to malasadas for dessert (the traditional Fat Tuesday dessert here in Hawaii--a fried sweet dough tossed in sugar and filled with custard, simply divine). Before I could accomplish this, though, I had to run to the grocery store for supplies, and since my homeschool morning with Aiden went roughly, that meant hitting the commissary with both kids after I scooped Aubrey up from school.
Now, on the best days, a trip to the grocery store with both kids is difficult. But this was not a good day. Despite having reminded them of the rules and setting expectations for their behavior before we entered the store, they were awful. They fought. And bickered. And whined. Aubrey bit her brother, whacked him upside the head with a Matchbox car, and yelled at him. Aiden kept playing tricks on his sister, which made her squeal and cry. Aubrey kept digging in the groceries and pulling out a bottle of Pledge and threatening to squirt her brother in the eye. During this time, I scolded. I reprimanded. I doled out punishments for when we got home. I re-read my grocery list 900 million times and tried to remember what I had just read over the din of their arguments. I couldn't think straight, every thought process was interrupted, and when we finally exited the store, I looked at the clock in my van--it had taken us 2 hours to buy a week's worth of groceries. And on top of it all, I was now stuck driving home in traffic, since I had missed my window of time before the nightmare Hawaii rush 'hour.' (or 4)
I was mad. Mad at my kids. Mad at the grocery bagger who had put half my groceries in plastic bags instead of my re-usable bags, and had not put the cold items in my insulated bags. (It is a long drive home.) I had to repack my groceries in the parking lot--while listening to my kids argue (yet again) and ask me 500 questions. I was mad at the traffic, the driver that cut me off, the guy who changed lanes and almost ran me off the road. And so, when my kids asked me, while driving, to dig a movie out of the case and put it in the DVD player and acted put out by my refusal, well...I didn't handle things so well. I explained how they were being selfish and inconsiderate. I expressed my disapproval in their behavior and the choices they made. It all started out innocent enough: calm-but-firm parenting, even voice, no shaming words. But then, well, Aubrey started whining that she couldn't control herself and it wasn't her fault she'd been bad. Aiden argued back over a detail of the day's account. I lost my last grip on my temper and then I just let them have it.
I yelled. I got on a roll. I detailed every selfish moment. I yelled how, "I don't want to do this anymore--I'm tired of the constant battles with you two! I can't keep having days like this every day! I can't even remember the last time we had a day that I didn't take away privileges or punish you or have to play referee!" My emotions overtook my reason, and although it was a nice release of pent-up frustrations, I felt all the worse when it was over.
We got home, I turned on some music while unloading the groceries and soon, I was back in control and calm once again reigned over my temper. Aubrey refused to complete her punishment (writing sentences five times each: Teeth are for chewing food. Hands are for helping, not hurting. I will obey my parents.) She screamed. She threw tantrums on the floor. I sent her upstairs until she could be calm. She slammed her bedroom door, which earned her some practice opening and closing the door nicely 20 times. She tried every manipulation she could think of to get out of her punishment: fake injuries, a hand that was too weak to hold a pencil, crying and screaming. I would hug her, tell her I was sorry she hated writing lines, and calmly remind her she wasn't allowed to do anything until her lines were complete. 2 1/2 hours after arriving home, she fell silent, and exactly five minutes later, she came skipping down the stairs with her lines completed and asked sweetly to go outside.
As I stirred the roux for the gumbo, I thought about our afternoon. I thought about the example I was giving my kids when I lost my temper and yelled. I reflected on how crazy things had been lately, how stressful, and how more often than I would care to admit, I had reacted to their childish antics by yelling or with harsh words. And I knew exactly what I needed to give up for Lent this year.
Most people will think me odd for giving up yelling for Lent. Aren't we supposed to be giving up something we like? Making a sacrifice? But you see, I realized than in some small, ugly way, yelling made me feel better when the world was chaotic and out of control. And that giving it up would be sacrificial--I would have to let go of the desires of my flesh to feel powerful at the hands of someone smaller and transform my heart, even in its most raw moments, to be graceful and loving and patient, even when it hurt.
As I sit here and type, my fingers itch to type in a disclaimer: "I really don't yell THAT much! Please don't think the Parker kids are living in the shadow of some tyrant who yells at them all day!" And then I realize that in my attempts to chronicle my turn from fleshly desires to more Christ-like behavior, I've just given in to yet another desire of the flesh--to justify, to minimize, to save one's pride. Obviously, I have a LONG way to go in this character-refinement that God is working in me.
I'm also quite certain that in the next 40 days, I'll probably fail at least once or twice, an angry word slipping out through clenched teeth before my heart and rational mind can slay it. But the exceptionally wonderful thing about Lent is that it is in my failing that I draw even nearer to God. I cannot keep His law perfectly. I cannot live up to the standard. I cannot earn my reward. I am not worthy of His presence. And yet, it is a gift already given. My pitifully inadequate sacrifice is all the more a reminder of how magnificently large and perfect His was. So this year, I embrace Lent in all of its glory--the tiny sacrifice, the certain failures, the war of flesh and spirit, and the knowledge of my absolute need for His grace.