BY MARGARET GALLEN
On the Thursday after Ash Wednesday, my 6 year-old stayed home sick. His father was traveling, so when it was time to drop my 4 year-old at preschool I bundled him up, handed him a “just in case you feel sick” pot, and dragged him with me to drop my little one at school.
He already knew that Ash Wednesday was the day before, and that his sister and I got ashes at preschool. As we pulled away after dropping her off he said, “Mom, why did Jesus have to die?” I spent the rest of the ride home explaining Jesus’ death and its purpose in Christianity.
Because my son had gone to the same Christian preschool, and because he eats up facts like other kids eat Easter candy, I didn’t skip any highlights. We started talking about Adam and Eve getting kicked out of the Garden of Eden, and went the whole way through Jesus’ last day on Earth: the Jewish leaders asking Pontius Pilate to condemn Him, the beating, the crown of thorns, the mocking, the heat, the long walk, the heavy tree, the falls, the crucifixion.
When I pulled in front of our house, I looked in the rearview mirror and asked if he was alright. My tender-hearted love cried and said, “I’m just so sad that Jesus died.” We walked inside the house, hugged for a long while, and talked some more.
I understand his reaction. Growing up, I remember dreading Lent. It generally came in late February or early March, and in the Western Pennsylvanian mountains where I grew up, that meant temperatures cold enough to snow. It meant landscapes of dead grass and gray tree trunks, roads empty and covered with ashy slush.
Life and Lent seemed hard. Lent meant giving things up that brought me joy.
It meant skipping the meat that I was used to and eating the fish, which I hated.
It meant fasting.
It meant spending more time in a big old drafty Pennsylvania stone church saying the Stations of the Cross.
I remember how sad I felt after walking through our dark, cold church to read the Stations. I remember the joy of Easter and the possibility of Spring feeling far away. I remember wanting to bypass Lent and run right at Easter with its chocolate eggs, fluffy dresses, and brightly colored clothes.
As a kid it’s hard to understand suffering, let alone to want to sign up for it. The idea of a promise is a hard concept, too. Both of those notions are central to Lent. Lent asks us to sit in the suffering of Jesus’ last day on Earth before we celebrate Easter. On Easter we’re supposed to find hope in all that Jesus endured and overcame to fulfill God’s promise to us.
Before Jesus’s story is revealed to us in the Bible and in history, we see examples of God’s chosen people suffering, wandering, and being delivered.
In 1 Chronicles 16:8-36 the author talks about God’s servants, the descendants of Israel, God’s chosen ones. He talks about how honorable, powerful and just-minded God is to protect them on their journey and deliver them to the land of Canaan, which He promised them.
We’re told they wandered from nation to nation, kingdom to kingdom and God allowed no one to oppress them. We’re instructed to sing God’s praises, and declare God’s glory, to fear Him, revere Him, to bring offerings and come before him.
As a kid you’re taught not to wander and to move away from suffering, so such stories can feel sad. The idea of coming out of discomfort and into safety can be completely foreign.
Sitting in that driver’s seat and looking back at my son with his head hanging and tears flowing; I knew what I passed on. It wasn’t just the hardness of Jesus’ journey — because we talked about the joy and love in it too. I understood in that moment that there were more than two little boot steps between my seat and his booster.
There’s been a whole road of bumps and curves that changed my perspective from dread to hope for the season of Lent. He will have his own road. What I am handing him is a map. He will not want it yet, but he will need it when he begins to struggle and wander.
This map will show that others have gone before and struggled and wandered and been delivered. With this map, he will feel less alone. With this map, he will see the value of one man’s journey. With this map, he will remember that a man should never walk through struggle alone again.
This Lent may you see the value of struggle, but also past it, to focus on making a world with more joy.
May God grant you the knowledge that you have a place in His design. You have needed all those who have come before you just as those after you will need you. Follow the path that He has laid.
MARGARET GALLEN is an essayist who lives in Northern Virginia. You can check out more of her current work on Comfortea.net. She received her BA in English Literature and a MS in Health Promotion Management. She’s an avid believer in the value of people and the power of stories. Learning about God, health, and yoga combined with being surrounded by family and community keep her smiling.