Why I Did Lent With My Kids

Over the last 40 days or so, I’ve thought a lot about the death of Jesus.

And so have my kids.

Yesterday we were at the lake and my son threw a cross-shaped piece of wood in the water and exclaimed, “Jesus is dying on the cross!” My daughter has been drawing the crucifixion on her chalk board. We attended our church’s Ash Wednesday service together. On Friday we walked through the stations of the cross together (my son only made it through the first 3). We’ve been reading bedtime stories about guys named Judas and Pilate.

I’m either sick or brilliant .

Here’s what I’m thinking: so much of our “Christian education” is targetted exclusively at the mind. We (rightly) want our kids to learn this and memorize that and repeat this correct answer. This is good but it’ll die sometime in early adolescence if they have not also experienced God. There’s a big difference between understanding something and knowing it.

I want my kids (and the kids of our community) to grow up feeling the wood of the cross, sensing the darkened hush of Good Friday’s worship. I want them to know the pang of disappointment when we abstain from certain foods on Fridays. And I want them to delight in the sweet burst of flavor when we indulge in what God has given again on Sundays.

For years I’ve shared life with teenagers for whom church was an irrelevent bore. Asleep in the back row. Disconnected and unaffected.

Maybe I’m still too young. Maybe I’m still too idealistic. But my dream for my kids is that by the time they reach middle school they’ll be too in love with a Jesus they’ve experienced as far too real to write-off as irrelevent…or boring.

Yesterday my daughter and I were talking about Easter and about how it rained so hard all morning. “It feels like it should always be sunny on Easter, doesn’t it dad?” she commented. “You know, since Jesus came back to life?”

Exactly.

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datsuns and donkeys


The other day I pull up to a stop light and I’m right behind this huge, shiny black HUMMER.

Then – I’m not making this up – this little brown late 1960s datsun 320 pickup rattles up on my right. I haven’t seen this model truck since I was, like 8…and it stops right next to the HUMMER.

The contrast between this hulking urbanized military mammoth and this rust-thin brown Japanese farm truck was so severe that I literally started laughing out loud.

And I yelled out to anyone who would listen, “What’s with the Datsun?”

In our culture, if you’re going to drive a HUMMER, you’re making a statement.

But that little light brown non-truck looked so out of date, so out of place, that I was thinking, “If you’re going to drive that you’re definitely making a statement.”

There’s this story in the Bible which, sometime in the middle ages, was subtitled The Triumphal Entry. No doubt because of the celebrating crowds, the palm branches (symbolizing military victory), the expectations of the people, the hope that Jesus would overthrow Rome, etc.

But is that really the message Jesus is sending? Triumph?

Imagine you’re there:

It’s wall to wall people.

As the commotion draws nearer and nearer – and people are yelling “Hosanna!” which means “Save!” or “Lord, save us!” – people start praising Jesus. “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.” And “Blessed is the King of Israel!”

And then, Jesus himself passes right before you – you barely see him as he rides by and you’re exhilarated but you’re also a bit perplexed. Because there are no chariots. It didn’t even look like he was riding a horse. Everything about that scene was just screaming white stallion but it was definitely not white and way too small…. And as the chaos clears and the noise moves slowly down the road you turn to the guy next to you whom you’ve never met and you say, “What’s with the donkey?”

It’s like Jesus is daring us to see through the cultural dressing up and the politicized expectations and see Him and get the point.

Sometimes our expectations of Jesus are based more in our cultural values than on Jesus’ own words or – when words wouldn’t be heard anyway – on Jesus’ own actions.

Sometimes we superimpose our definitions of glory or triumph onto Jesus and we miss the whole point.

We’re expecting a God in a HUMMER, we get God in a Datsun 320.

On Sunday we’re worshipping Jesus as King. By Friday, when he hasn’t performed – when he hasn’t met our expectations – we’re screaming for his crucifixion.

The challenge for us – for this whole season of Lent – but especially during this week which is called “Holy,” is to slow down. To pay attention. The challenge is to honestly ask, “What’s with the donkey?”