The reverent phrase, “Remember that you are dust and to dust, you shall return,” never loses its power over me even after hearing it my entire life. When I kneel and ashes are marked as a cross on my forehead, I do not even contemplate the meaning of the phrase anymore, I just feel it. So, when my very literal daughter argued we are in fact not dust, I had to figure out how to explain Ash Wednesday to her.
Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of the Lenten Season leading up to Easter. Even if you’re not a believer, stay with me. The messages behind Lent can benefit everyone. Lent is modeled after the 40 days Jesus spent fasting in the desert and ends on Good Friday. It is a time of confession, fasting, and repentance. Wow! Those are some heavy topics to explain to my five and six-year-old kids.
The meaning behind, “Remember that you are dust and to dust, you shall return,” may seem like a bit of a downer to break down for kids. For believers, the phrase means we acknowledge our sinfulness, and our salvation will come after death. Yikes! My kids understand their grandfather is in Heaven, but I’m just not sure they can wrap their minds around all that one phrase entails. However, my daughter is able to understand the ashes on our foreheads are an outward symbol we are willing to make changes in our lives.
I will shock you by admitting I do not have a theology degree, but my takeaway from Lent has always been the idea of examining my life and looking for areas in which I can be a better person. Even though it feels as if we live in a society that demands perfection, Lent asks us to admit we are not perfect. Lent is an opportunity to study ourselves openly and honestly. It is a time to admit we can always improve. We can be more caring, more selfless, and more accepting among many other things.
While many people abstain from something they love during Lent (donuts come to mind), the most influential priests in my life have recommended taking on something new for those 40 days instead. This is a more positive approach for kids, especially since Lent is a time for giving. Taking away the Nintendo Switch for 40 days might teach kids about sacrifice, but I dare say it will give them a healthy dose of resentment, too. Taking on daily acts of kindness, community outreach programs, or simply spending more time reflecting together as a family might have a more significant impact on our kids.
Yes, I agree with you that we should strive to be better people year round. However, life takes over. We get wrapped up in getting everyone out the door in the morning, traffic, work, more traffic, after-school activities, even more, traffic, homework, housework, bath-time, bed-time, and occasionally sleep. Then we do it all over again the next day. The Lenten Season can be a great time to reflect and have one of those “the more you know” moments with your kids regardless if you are a believer or non-believer.