Lent arriveth. It’s not the happiest of times, is it? There are times when I find myself wondering why we haven’t built grand traditions of seasonal decorating and twinkly dirges to sing ourselves through the six long weeks of it. Snow falls, mud squishes, and then it’s Easter: one day of pastels, hidden baskets and chocolate bunnies, and it all seems to be over. Lent is just no fun.
I can clearly remember the first time my mother let me pick out my own cereal at the grocery store, without restriction. Usually, you see, I would be “guided” to the Cheerios and bran flakes, and away from my favorite, but only occasionally enjoyed, Honey Smacks. But one day, perhaps my mom was just a little tired of offering so much guidance. As we bought groceries for a family trip, she gave in, and allowed my friend and me to pick out whatever cereal we wanted. We ended up with Smurfberry Crunch. I kid you not. We fumbled to open the box as we spilled through the door: what kind of heavenly taste would these colorful, cute cereal marbles have?
As it turned out, they were awful. (My brother’s friend commented that none of the Smurfs had any teeth.) I think that was the first moment I was ever consciously persuaded that healthier food could taste better. The thought did not universally stick, and I will admit to a failing for rice krispie treats to this day, but a seed was planted amidst my disappointment that afternoon: sugar was not everything when it came to taste.
We sometimes say that church should be fun. We should *like* church; our kids should *like* coming to church. If they’re not having fun, we should worry. We don’t apply that same standard to other activities we believe are good for our kids: school doesn’t have to strive to be fun, and piano lessons needn’t worry if they aren’t the dessert at the end of the day’s meal. But worship, we seem to suggest to our kids, should be something they choose to eat only if they want to, like a bowl of ice cream at the end of the week, or a spinach-artichoke dip at its start.
Church is really vegetables, if I may. It’s great when they taste good, but my kids aren’t going to have a lot of choice about whether they eat them. I’m going to serve them, as nicely as I can, with the expectation that they will be consumed; and even if not too many sink in I’m going to keep serving them until they do. The reason I do this is that I care about these kids, as I do about my own self. I am not so worried about whether they have fun at supper; I care deeply about whether what they eat is good.
So if you tend to think of Lent as no fun, I can agree. There is more fun to be had at the movies. But Lent—and worship, in general—is healthy, and it is good. It prepares us for life, and makes us strong for the work laid out for us. It involves more sacrifice than frill, and more discipline than impulse, but these are the good solid traits of a noble soul.
So says this girl, who will never buy Smurfberry anything again.