All that gloom beside, my child has been unbelievably sweet and cooperative this week. Bedtime was off to a tough start at the beginning of the week. Perhaps one night of being up late refusing to go to sleep wore out her defiant resolve, reducing her to a wearied compliance. She’s eaten well, she’s been polite, and after that first night went to bed easily and quietly all week. There have been few tantrums, and they’ve all been short-lived and quickly redirected. She’s been good to say “thank you,” and effortlessly entertain herself and there have been no accidents in her panties or thrown food or time-outs and on several occasions I’ve heard her sing “Let It Go.” So I’ve had a pretty wonderful week with my daughter.
Maybe it’s just me, but it makes me feel like there is penitence in the air.
I know my daughter is not old enough to understand what it means to repent, to “turn away” from her sin, to ponder the ways she fails to live up to her best self. Honestly, I’m not convinced that a three-year-old is really capable of sin in any kind of personal responsibility kind of way. She knows what our rules are and that there are consequences if she breaks them, but she can’t grasp the inherent moral rightness or wrongness of her actions. But it sure has seemed as if she’s made a concerted effort this week to turn from her obstinate ways and live more fully into her better nature.
I don’t know that I can really say the same for myself. Not that I’ve been any worse a human being this week. I can say I’ve been a more mellow father, but only because that’s easy when your kid is well-behaved. But at work, and driving through town, and negotiating my usual adult responsibilities, I’ve made little to no effort to reflect and prepare. Lent is forty days, so I’ve still got time, but I’m off to a slow start. I spent Ash Wednesday running from one thing to the next like I always do. I had ashes on my head the whole time, but that’s about the only thing that was any different about me.
In the Southern Baptist church I grew up in, we didn’t do Lent. We skipped right victory and Easter. Stopping and spending forty days – forty days! – reflecting on our weaknesses and failings? Yuck. I heard some colleagues tell me yesterday that there was a Catholic church in town that did drive-through ashes. Literally, people drove through the parking lot and the priest put the ashes on their foreheads through the window. That’s a little more our pace, isn’t it? Quick, convenient, as little disruption as possible.
Then again, I’m not one for dramatic self-flagellation, either. Doesn’t seem much purpose to it, nor does it carry much grace. Like many of us post-modern Christians trying to recover from a strict conservative evangelical upbringing, I squirm at the mention of sin as if this is a slippery slope into Calvinist discussions of depravity and sinners in the hands of an angry God. And yet this resistance to self-loathing might close me off to the very real ways that I fail to be better at, well, being. For me, the challenge of Lent is finding the balance between self-hatred and letting ourselves off the hook for the ways our brokenness perpetuates needless suffering in the world.
Perhaps my daughter really is teaching me most clearly about the opportunity that Lent provides: to slow down and do better at being ourselves. Maybe penitence means to give thanks for small gifts and celebrate small victories and let our tantrums pass as quickly as they come. Maybe penitence means we can find some measure of contentment in where we are so that we need less time-outs. Maybe penitence means we can sing “Let It Go” and sleep easier at night. Maybe there’s still time this Lent for me to be penitent and have a little more grace in my life.