I hadn't thought that Lent was going particularly well for me, or the family. I'd fell down on my prayer time - neglecting even my one Lent prayer a day, most days. We've started to incorporate more treats - ice lollies, cookies, chocolate cake - into our meals. I've been trying to shovel fruit and veg down me, but I've not found it that easy! I only went to the first of four ecumenical Lent study sessions. And so on. I felt a bit spiritually adrift, to be honest. Instead of praying more, I was praying less. I was raising my voice to everyone. I certainly didn't feel I was learning anything.
But even before our church hit me with a powerful Holy Monday service yesterday, things were slotting into place; the Holy Spirit got me. There are a few things that my mind has begun to focus on. They aren't what I thought I would learn during Lent. But they are huge lessons.
The first thing is that, like Danielle Bean encourages us to do, busy mothers need to celebrate their successes. The fact that I pray AT ALL, or get the girls through the church door at 10am on Sunday, is a major success in itself in our family life. I'm doing a theology course once a week that pulls me closer to God in so many ways. Our recent Palm Sunday service was meaningful on several levels, despite - actually, largely because of - three little girls to juggle. I've kept up a weekly swim session. And I'm trying. I'm willing things to work. The children know that treats have mainly stopped for Lent. They have been colouring in Lacey's Lenten Path and won prizes in their school's Lent Challenge for creating pictures on the themes of thankfulness. Their knowledge of Jesus has widened. I think, often, that it's all very well to have the ideas about what Lent can bring, but it's the Holy Spirit who is going to get all transformative on us. It's not so much sweating with human effort, but opening ourselves up to change. My theme this year was Keep it Simple, and we actually have.
Second, Lent is not just about getting all contemplative and meditative and transcending the cares of our material world (although all that is definitely important.) But it's also about making changes in our immediate environment that we can take onward with us during the post-Lenten seasons. I'm astounded at how it pretty much doesn't matter whether I cook a mouthwatering new recipe or serve up something simple - it's food, and we have a family meal, and I will continue to use this knowledge and keep weeknight suppers easy in the future. Prayer-wise, I have always managed what I can, and now the baby has joined her big sisters in the kids' room, I can have some evening reading and prayer time before bed without disturbing her. Oh, and the children have heard more scripture at bedtime this Lent than ever before, which is a development I didn't even consciously make. Lent can help us break out of a rut. It gives us hope for the future. It helps us to try.
Thirdly, Lent is about learning to recognise what elements in ourselves have been transformed - perhaps quietly, going unnoticed for some time - while we've been trying desperately to get closer to Jesus. Reading one post about the value of domestic drudgery suddenly clicked into place the attitude of servitude I've been trying to achieve. I suddenly get why order, space and cleaning up after every meal is important to the family unit. I've also lost my resentment that sometimes it's me returning to the same tasks, seemingly without respite. Our recent Vomit-thon kind of made me happy to be on my knees, having to care for someone's most basic needs. I have come round in a circle and realised that caring is a gift. We are defined by our actions more than our words, I think. I have always been eager to say 'I love you', but slower to engage in tasks that gift my family with time, sleep, beauty and joy. And I have also come to recognise that at times a person simply can't give anymore, and that's okay too.
Finally - it's that Jesus will meet us where we are. God will give us what we need, not what we ask for. I may be craving solitude, space and solace, thinking I will learn from them and more meaningful prayer time. But it's the other signs and symbols we need to tune into that show us what can help us develop and grow. Of course God is in the details. We can be so busy trying to get somewhere that we forget to look at route markers; we can forget how to take a step back, before moving forward. The Holy Monday service last night helped remind me of that. Hopefully by Good Friday, the message will really have hit home.