In this punitive culture, bent on pushing a cycle of shame and hurt, Lent takes on perhaps one of the worst cloaks of evil. From years of discussing Lent with friends and family, reading about it online, debating it and more, I can sum up how people raised in our typical punitive environment see Lent.
God stands behind you, much taller than you. He is ferocious looking, his brow set sternly and his mouth pursed, ready to scream at you with anger and hate. He is waiting behind you, watching your every step. He is ready, always ready for the moment you make a mistake or do something bad, wrong...sinfullll. The moment you slack, the second you turn the wrong way, there He will be, smacking you. Tapping you. Popping you. Spanking you. A good hard spanking that you deserve because you are pure evil, pure sin worthy only of condemnation.
Wait, are we talking about a divine being or a parent here?
Lent is not about focusing on the shame, embarrassment, and punishment to make ourselves roll in the horror of our mistakes and wrongdoings. God is never behind you, waiting for you to trip up so you can be punished. The Church calls us to remember our sinfulness so that we can realize how much God loves us and how beautiful and valuable we are in the eyes of God.
Lent is about transformation, not condemnation. Stop looking over your shoulder for the punitive parent waiting for you to fall and start looking ahead to God, who is always ready and willing to love us. His arms are outstretched, His eyes light and open, waiting for us to choose where to go and how far to go in our lives. It is our choice to soften our hearts, it is our road that we walk, our experiences to learn from and grow from in this life.
What's the difference between a tyrannical, hateful god tossing you into hell while gleefully laughing and a merciful, loving god who is always ready, always guiding, always waiting for you to choose the relationship over the vice?
Parenting carries a stronger effect than simply preparing your child to enter the corporate rat race or fit a societal marriage role. Parenting imprints a worldview on our children about everything from sense of self to sense of others...how we got here, our purpose in life and our reason for living and loving.
The way we respond to our children even as early as within the womb, when they can hear our heartbeats and our voices, sets the stage for how they perceive the world around them and how they see themselves. Their arrival earthside brings them fully into our culture. When they cry, how do we respond? When their arms are outstretched towards us, what do we say to them? When they fall, how do we react? Those sleepless nights and days spent breastfeeding are messages to children. Trust or fear. Be nourished fully or go without. Relax around others or walk on eggshells. We set the tone.
And that's a deeper note driving gentle parenting. This isn't a pissing contest to see who can be the better parent. This isn't some glam politically correct campaign. This is about parents realizing that every little interaction from wiping a nose to a bottom, from playing legos to tying shoelaces, is a note adding to a musical piece that plays a song for our children. It plays a song about this world and the afterworld, about love and hate, self and others, creation and God.
As we all know, whether we go on to internalize the songs our parents sang to us, whether we agree with those songs or feel hurt by them, they continue to sing us to sleep at night. Many of us have stored hurtful, dark, terrible songs deep in our souls. We hear the tune when fighting with our spouses. We hear the tune when trying to parent our own children. As we quietly kneel in church, that song trips over its many notes, repeating to us. Failure. You are a failure. You are stupid. You can't do anything right. I wish I never had you. I can't stand you. You get what you deserve. I hope that hurt. This is my house and I will have my way, period. How dare you defy me. I will show you where you belong. You will learn your place. You are no better than me.
It softly peals its worn words during any moment of silence, driving us to fill our lives with distraction. Music and television, video games and candy crush have to squeeze into every minute to drown out the pervasive, never ending shame and punishment. I said, come here. You are old enough to learn. This hurts me more than you. Stop crying, it's what you deserve. Maybe next time you'll obey me.
What song do you want to sing to your child? What song truly speaks of triumph over adversity? Of mercy and love over sin and darkness? A parent ready always to love, arms outstretched during our falls and hardships, praying for our transformation is on our side. We all fear the demon behind us, waiting to rain down blows and shame, to freeze us in our shortcomings and embarrassments.
This Lent, consider giving up more than chocolate, beer or Facebook. Consider embarking on a deep, life-changing journey from punitive parenting to unconditional parenting. If today you hear His voice, speaking softly under that worn track of shame and hate, harden not your heart. Spend these 40 days learning to play a new tune for your children.
Show them the God we worship: the God of mercy, compassion, love and servitude. When we least deserve it, He shows us mercy. When we are unlovable, He loves us. When we trip and fall, He picks us up and renews us. This is the parenting song we can play for our children. One of unconditional love in a world filled with condemnation. This is a real Lenten Transformation.
The Catholic Attachment Parenting Center:
Parenting with Grace: The Catholic Parents' Guide
http://www.amazon.com/Parenting-Grace-Catholic-Parents-Raising/dp/1592766854 (link is NOT monetized)
Unconditional Parenting: Alfie Kohn:
Catholic priests, bishops and saints on discipline:
Related posts on the blog
The bible and spanking (including more resource links):
Parable of the unforgiving parent:
Damning your child in God's name: