"How can we take a redeeming stand in the middle of the pressures and demands of contemporary family life? What are the hearty, simple and blessed soups of Christ we can offer?"
A Youth Leader asks about Lent
At Building Faith, we are interested in the length and breadth of Christian formation. As educators, we form disciples who will listen for God's voice and do God's work in the world, and we often concentrate on adult education and young children.
Teenagers, however, are notoriously elusive - they're most likely to tell us what they think we want to hear, even if what we really want to hear is deep in their heart. Jane Gober, who ministers to teens in the Diocese of Spokane, provided us with a small survey and some research on teens and Lent.
"Do you give up anything for Lent, or take anything on?"
This was the first question Jane asked her teens. Their responses are reflected in the word cloud at the top left of this post. Word clouds work by making larger those words that are most often repeated, and you can see the affirmation of a Holy Lent in the words "yes" and "Lent." The point is: these teens are interested in keeping a Lenten practice.
"Is Lent important in your home?"
While there were many affirmative answers to giving something up or taking something on for Lent, this second question was less definitive. Jane writes, "In my decade plus of congregational formation ministry, I haven't heard tales or seen evidence of common household Lenten practices. Individual family members may observe Lent, but that is a personal, not a family experience. We know from recent sociological studies of families and religion that long-term faithfulness is rooted in household practices. The moral 'inoculation' effect is most potent when religious practice is regular and steeped through the whole of a family's life together." Unlike the seasons of Advent, Christmas, and Easter, we do not incorporate symbols and stories of the season into our daily living.
Jane posits, "The religious practice of young people is not only a reflection of the faith of their parents, it is also an expression of their parents' faith. Teen responses show: Lent is important, but not as important as it could be, or should be. Church professionals devote a lot of energy to inviting their congregants to a Holy Lent, but that practice is not percolating through. Traditional Lenten disciplines of attending worship more frequently, taking up a book study, or making a commitment of time to a prayerful activity are squeezed for time in the teen life. As is the case with every other aspect of teen life, academics, music, sports, and other plans take precedence. The crisis of our brokenness, our separation from Jesus, remains in force even as we see to examine the darkness in the practices of a Holy Lent."
The yearning to deepen their relationship with God is clearly present in the teens' responses: Lent is about learning, figuring things out; a period of reflection, meditation; simplify; sacrifice...
"If you could come up with a new symbol/icon or logo for Lent, what would it look like?"
This was the last question that Jane asked her students, and the responses were varied: a mirror, a chalkboard, a candle. The most surprising, however, was soup. "It's just so Lenten," her youth group explained. Jane reflects, "Kate DiCamillo's Tale of Despereaux tells of a kingdom where the knee-jerk reaction to a crisis is a ban on soup, bowls, and spoons (long story). But in the depths of crisis the royal cook takes a stand. She knows what type of balm will heal the sad and sick souls of the kingdom. She dares to make soup. Not a fancy soup with extraordinary equipment, but the simplicity of hearty, fragrant blessed soup."
This image of soup has led Jane to reflect on the broader responsibilities of faith communities in forming their teens at church and at home. She asks, "How would offering the image of soup help congregations nurture youth and their families during Lent and beyond? In a kingdom of anxiety, what balm could household faithfulness bring? How can we take a redeeming stand in the middle of the pressures and demands of contemporary family life? What are the hearty, simple and blessed soups of Christ we can offer?"
The questions Jane asked her teens are below. If you begin a conversation about Lent with your youth, we'd love to see more answers! Share with us here or on Facebook.
- Do you give anything up for Lent, or take anything on?
- Is Lent important in your home?
- If a friend asked you to summarize Lent in one word or phrase, what would you say?
- If you could come up with a new symbol/icon or logo for Lent, what would it look like?
Jane Alice Gober is the Youth and Family Minister at St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Walla Walla, Washington and the Assistant for Youth for the Diocese of Spokane. She has a long career of service and innovation in lifelong formation with congregations across the US. You can follow her regularly at blissfulirreverence.blogspot.
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