We are at the end of the first week of Great Lent. Every year, the season of Lent can be wildly different. Some easier than others. Some not at all what I expected. This year I see some new dynamics in our family; I see joy and nostalgia.
My twenty-year-old, Scarlett, told me this is the most nostalgic time of year for her. The older kids have each mentioned to me this week that Pascha is their favorite holiday. They have entered into Lent with anticipation for the Feast and determination to get through Lent as best as they can.
Being a convert to Eastern Christianity; I often forget that my kids are not converts but have lived like this their entire lives. It seems silly to forget this, but the lifestyle we have now is entirely foreign from the kind Manny, or I had growing up. I don’t think I ever even went to an Easter service as a kid.
For me, raising a family has meant Lent, and all it entails can be a stressful time in several ways. Life changes once Lent begins (as it should). There is the change in diet, and this alone can turn a household upside down.
Certainly in the beginning learning to cook food which kept the fasting rules was hard for me. As our family has grown, new difficulties have arisen, like needing to adjust for more taste palates, various nutritional needs, and having a household with a wide age range. Not to mention times when I was pregnant and I couldn’t fast but needed to help the family fast in some way.
Then there is the need to increase prayer. A large reason why we homeschool is so we can adjust our schedules according to the Church calendar and to be able to pray as a family more often. However, school and chores must be done. Being able to adjust things is convenient, but an increase in prayer services at church and home still requires us to take time from other things. Again, with the birth of children throughout the years that has meant more kids to school, more clothes to have ready for church, more everything!
Almsgiving or charitable work also need to be increased during Lent. For us, we try and help out when and how we can at church, especially during Holy Week. Again, time is needed. We aim to give alms from our fasting efforts and other sacrifices. Some years we’ve been able to give and do more than others.
All of these changes that occur have a different effect on the family depending on the season of life that is upon us. This year I am noticing a new season. Half of our ten children are now nine years old and up. A lot of the struggles I had with these kiddos of mine have passed (like eating Lenten staples). This group of my kids has more than ever before been strolling down memory lane. I’ve overheard them talking to each other, or they’ve spoken to me, fondly remembering numerous things from past Lenten seasons. Such as fasting meals (some good and those horrible ones too). Different prayer services: The Great Canon and the time Luke called it The Grand Canyon. Presanctified Liturgy and the years we drove to Saint Phillip’s in San Bernardino and then ate at the same Chinese place afterward, twice a week, for all of Lent. The Sunday of Orthodoxy, Sunday of Mary of Egypt, Holy Week and all the feels that come with it. The Lent we were all sick and the only asceticism we accomplished for weeks involved throw up and sitting around wishing we could get better so we could make it to church, all while promising if we do get better we won’t complain about fasting or prostrations!
This time of year feels like coming home for all of us. As we journey on, I’m sure I will hear more memories shared. There is so much that happens between now and Pascha: Baking prosphora, stories to share, etc.
Being a convert has made Lent a tremendous learning experience for me all these years. The early years consisted of wanting to keep all the rules, say all the prayers, make leaps and bounds in spiritual growth, not only for myself but the kids too. Lent had a checklist feel about it. Slowly that faded away by sheer circumstance or me simply maturing. My ideas of what a perfect Lent for the family is have changed and I know there is no perfect Lent and whatever happens, is what we need that year—even illness. God works through every situation and circumstance if we let Him. Most importantly I have learned God is in charge, and Lent is about our relationship with Him and each other and not a checklist of Do’s and Don’ts.
We watched one of Sister Vassa’s videos this afternoon, and afterward one of the questions prompted by the video lead me to remind the kids that Lent is a time to prepare for Pascha—the most important day of the year. This annual Lenten journey to Pascha reminds us that all of life is a journey to the eternal Pascha in heaven. I used to worry if my kids would look back on Lent as a terrible time consisting of bad food, long services, and mom always talking about God. My twenty-year-old daughter, the tweens’ and teens’ conversations this year have assured me it was the convert in me who didn’t have a clue of just how much of a gift the Church year is to children; I have no worries now.
I’ve been thinking about why I am sensing so much joy this year. A big part is my perspective. I’m noticing the joy that was always here. Letting go of my ideas of how things should be and accepting how things are is a door to joy. Lent is also a time I slow down and focus more than normal on teaching the kids the faith. We have multiple conversations about God and the Church brought on because we are fasting, or from one of the prayers we said, or from the extra catechism lessons we have during Lent. The kids feel united in their struggle to keep the fast and to be kinder to each other. As parents, Manny and I are working harder at being patient, loving, and kind to the kids. We do schoolwork and chores, but they take a backseat when needed. It is no wonder, this time of year means so much to all of us.