We flew home yesterday, a suitably penitential way to open the lenten season.  (God bless Continental, they served tuna sandwiches.)  As we were driving over to my sister’s house prior to going to the airport, I was trying to explain to the kids what Ash Wednesday and Lent are.  Trickier because our flight schedule conflicted with the church service schedule, so there were no ashes for us this year.

There are plenty of things to focus on in Lent, giving rise to that peculiar genre of catholic writing "Everyone Else Is Observing Lent The Wrong Way".    Still, I can’t teach my kids every possible angle on Lent in one ten-minute discussion, and not every angle is appropriate the 5-to-6-year-old age bracket.  We ended up focusing on gratitude.

We had a problem around our house some months ago with ingratitude.  The SuperHusband (and sometimes I with him) would take some or all children out to a restaurant for dinner.  Our children did not seem to understand that this was something special. Or at the very least, they didn’t understand how to show their appreciation.  For example, by not whining and fighting through their entire dinner.

So we broke down "how to show you are grateful" into a few simple steps.  They are:

1)  Smile
2) Say "Please" and "Thank you"
3) Use a nice voice
4) Follow instructions

This is the kind of behavior that makes the parents want to take you out again sometime.

Now Lent, I explained to the kids yesterday morning, is the time of preparing for Easter.  Review: What is Easter?  It’s when we celebrate Jesus rising from the dead and opening up Heaven for us.    If going out to dinner is something to be grateful for, getting to go to Heaven — that’s something to be really, really, really grateful for. 

The first three elements of gratitude towards Mom and Dad have their corollary with God.  How is our relationship with Him going?  Do we talk to Him? Do we thank Him?  Do we come to Him when we need something? Do we trust Him to do what is good for us even when it doesn’t seem so good to us?  And are we reverent towards Him?  Do we treat him like God, Creator of the whole universe?  Lent is a time to practice our relationship with God.

"Follow Instructions" is what ought to be flowing naturally from our relationship with God.  If we love Him and trust Him, we will do what He wants of us.  During Lent we practice so that we get better and better at following God’s instructions for us, and we also work on cleaning out of our life anything that is getting in the way of following those instructions.   If I have trouble sharing my toys with my siblings, during Lent I might practice sharing by spontaneously offering a toy I think my brother or sister might like to use.

There are plenty of other aspects of Lent for us to explore, but this is where we began.  One of the joys of the liturgical year is that we get to do Lent over and over, year after year, each year focusing on what we are ready for that year.   Gratitude is where our family is this year.