I love liturgy. I love reliving the great drama of the Christian faith each week alongside my neighbors, and I am convinced in the power of experience over study. But this particular practice stumped me. Fasting and repentance are throughout Scripture, but I left a theology that insisted even when we were repenting, we were still sinning. I am convinced the liturgical seasons draw us closer to God, but I couldn't warm up to the idea of focusing on my sin for the next forty days. I'd given enough years of my life to that endeavor. I didn't want to pick it up again.
Until I dealt with my son's Lego problem.
I write often about Legos, because honestly, they are a significant part of my day. One of my two older sons has a love that borders on obsession. They are everywhere. The playroom is known as the Lego room. He spends hours a day building cars, boats, and stations, or drafting plans for his next creation. He reads about what others have built. When it's his turn with the remote, he watches Lego movies or Lego reviews on youtube. His life is all legos, all the time.
Usually, that's not a problem. He also reads, does school work, rides his bike, jumps on the trampoline, plays with his brother, enjoys play groups, and hangs out with his dad in the evenings. Most of the time, Legos are an endearing habit, not a cause for concern.
But recently my introverted little boy has become very comfortable alone with his Legos for indefinite stretches of time. He responded fiercely to the slightest instruction. He became intolerant of his younger siblings, even his closest brother, who is typically his favorite playmate. He was focused on Legos. The rest of life was an interruption.
For several weeks I struggled against his sudden ill temper. Over and over I tried to address the moment, but I could not make any dent in his attitude. Then, last weekend, I realized the root of our trouble. Legos were his (and my) problem.
As he sat on his bed, sullen and defiant, I said to him, "Your life is out of balance, buddy. I need to help you right it. The Lego room is closed for a while. This is not a punishment. You need to remember how to be part of our team."
At first he begged for another chance. He would hurry through a chore and say, "Did that work? Can I have my Legos back now?" My response was always the same. "I care about your heart, not the chore. No Legos yet."
Then something amazing happened.
Once his obsession was removed, my little boy re-engaged with his world. He again rode his bike, jumped on the trampoline, read a book, played with his siblings. And he talked to me - not barking from the stairwell, but really interacting - and hung out with his dad in the evenings. He once again acted like the little boy I know and love so well.
In fact, he was so much calmer and happier I thought it was time to re-introduce Legos in limited increments. Early this morning I told him he could play in the Lego room until breakfast was ready. I expected he would be ecstatic, but he was nonplussed. "That's okay Mom," he replied. "I'd rather stay up here with you."
All at once I understood. This is why we observe Lent.
It's not about punishment, and it's not about denial. It's about righting our hearts, creating space in our lives for the things that matter. Most of the time I don't see that my life is out of balance until it is too late, and I'm spent, exhausted, a heap of remorse on the floor. Lent is a chance to disconnect from the things that consume us. Not because any one thing is bad in itself, and not because God doesn't want us to enjoy temporal things. But because Communion with God and one another is better.
I stopped asking why I should give something up for God. Instead I asked, "Where is my life out of balance? What does God want to right in my life?" The answer came quickly. A small thing was clearly out of sync, and the ripple effects made my entire family's life harder. So I am correcting it. For the next forty days, I will do what I need to do. Not because I am hopelessly sinful, but because there's a better way.
Like my son, I am certain Lent will bring balance into my life. And when it is over, I won't want to go back.
(If you are here from Converge, welcome! You may be interested in how giving up on God's will strengthened my faith, how I found spiritual peace, or what happened with my daughter at the Eucharist recently. So glad you're here!)