Lent is for Everyone: A Time for Quiet, Service, and Listening

Heart for Lent made of small purple stones with a cross made of sticks and leaf on top

Ashes kept getting in my eyes, but all I could think about was the fried shrimp I had been promised after Mass. My first memory of Ash Wednesday is going to Spanish Mass with my grandpa and aunt. Since I didn’t know much Spanish, I watched more than I participated. My grandpa spoke perfect English but was most comfortable worshipping in Spanish. Later in the fellowship hall over the traditional fish fry, my grandpa and his buddies discussed what they were giving up for Lent: sweets, pan dulce, chocolate. Not eating any of those wonderful treats for 40 whole days sounded torturous to a ten-year-old.

If you aren’t part of the Christian tradition you might not be familiar with Ash Wednesday and Lent, so here’s a quick overview. Ash Wednesday marks the first day of the Lenten season in the Western Christian Church, and is observed by fasting, prayer, and attending church. After the service, parishioners have ashes placed on their foreheads. The ashes represent one’s mortality, our need for humility and repentance when we make mistakes. The 40 days between Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday represents the time Jesus spent in the wilderness, fasting and being tempted by satan. Observers are asked to give up a vice for this time and use the season to intentionally reflect on Christ’s life, ministry, sacrifice, and resurrection.

I have given up a variety of things for Lent resulting in varying levels of success. There was giving up fast food (solid win thanks to my college meal plan), alcohol (slipped up during Rodeo Cook-off), and caffeine (a colossal failure for a first-time mom and coffee addict). A couple of years ago I was listening to an interview with Father James Martin SJ, a Jesuit priest, author, and editor at large at America Magazine and he summed up the season, in my opinion, perfectly, “Lent is a time of quiet to hear the call of God to serve.”

Whether you subscribe to the Christian tradition or not, we all can benefit from a dedicated time of quiet or using our time and talents to serve our neighbors. I might even say there are seasons in which, we should do exactly nothing.

A time for quiet

For nearly three years, our hearts and minds have been burdened with the weight of five heavy letters, COVID. Rarely has a conversation, thought, or action not involved the pandemic in some way. The questions are endless, the answers are not always clear and the decisions are difficult. Throw in social media, the 24-hour news cycle and if we are not intentional the racket never stops. Maybe I am the only one, but parenting small children can be overstimulating: Carpool, never-ending conversations about Minecraft, and the constant loop of Encanto (OK, I don’t mind that one, too much).

Noise is part of parenting. In order to not lose my mind with my kids, I have to find time for silence, even if for just a few minutes. For me, the notorious night owl and car dancer, I have started two things to find silence: getting up early to have a cup of coffee when the house is still quiet and driving in the car without turning on music or a podcast.  I use this time to pray and meditate. More often than not, I am able to figure out the next step in a project or it allows me to take a deep breath, center myself before going on with my day.

A time to serve

My mom was adamant about serving others. Even when money was tight, she would buy a package of diapers to give to a neighbor she knew was struggling. I am trying to instill the same attitude in our girls. If our neighbors have a need, we do what we can to meet it. I am grateful to raise our daughters in the most diverse city in America. A few weeks ago, I heard couples argue over furniture styles in three different languages at IKEA! {In fact, it made me smile because it was a nice reminder that a) all couples fight, and b) we are not that different from one another, but I digress}.

Houston is a global city and a friendly one at that. With that comes lots of opportunities to use our time and talents to serve our neighbors. We include the girls in volunteering around town. Our church works alongside local mosques and resettlement groups to help refugees adjust to their new lives in Houston. In November, my oldest daughter and I got to volunteer together serving guests at a Friendsgiving dinner. At the end of the night, we were both exhausted, but Adelaide had made three new girlfriends. How can you use the next 40 days to serve your neighbors? Regardless of their age, there are opportunities for your kids to serve in the community: pack non-perishable lunches for those in need, make a meal for a first-time parent and let the kids help deliver it. If your kids are older, volunteer with Houston Welcomes Refugees to help stock the apartment for a refugee family new to Houston.

A time to listen

Reading this you might be thinking, I don’t need another thing on my to-do list. Then you might fall into the last option: do nothing. The season of Lent is a time for focus on the life, ministry, death, and resurrection of Christ. During Jesus’ years of ministry, he rested in the midst of a raging storm. Maybe you need to do the same. Raising kids is difficult. We are doing that while also living through a pandemic, divisive social issues, and global unrest. I haven’t even mentioned the stuff that keeps you, my sweet reader, up at night. You might feel like you have nothing left. I get it, I have been there. Maybe for the next 40 days, there is nothing you need to do but listen to what your body needs. It might need rest, so plan to go to bed 15 minutes earlier each night. Maybe your body needs a release, so give your permission to cry or write down your burdens. If you need to talk to someone, make the call to your doctor and be honest with your needs. This may not solve everything but it is a solid start.

Lent is a time to refocus our hearts on what is important.  As a good friend told me in the midst of my lowest moment of the pandemic, “You are loved. Your emotional and mental health are important.” Dear reader, “we need you in a good place because there is much good to be done.” Lay down your burdens and rest.


 

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Alana was born and raised on Galveston Island, which thanks to surviving hurricanes solidified her stubborn streak. After one too many dust storms, Alana transferred from Texas Tech to University of Houston, graduating with a degree in communications. She worked briefly in media and the non-profit sector until she found her calling in higher education. Adamant she was too independent to marry or have children, Alana promptly fell in love with and married Eric, a middle school administrator. They have two vivacious daughters - Adelaide {October 2013} and Eliza {May 2017}. Somehow, Alana and Eric are also responsible for three dogs and two cats. The partridge in a pear tree arrives next week. Team Holmes loves Inner Loop life: exploring museums, restaurants and catching sporting events {Go Coogs, Owls & Astros!}. Alana is known for her curiosity, fierce loyalty and sarcastic yet enduring personality. She loves dance parties in the kitchen, painting, or reading because even though she knows she won’t read every brilliant book ever written, she’s no quitter. Alana also writes about grief, politics and religion on alanacholmes.com.

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