After being inspired by my friend Ashley's intention to help her family focus on serving during the season of Lent, we have traded in our weekly Story Circle for what we are calling Serving Circle. I felt overwhelmed at first with trying to pick ways for our family to serve together, but once I decided to use the last portion of Matthew 25 as our guide, it became a lot easier to narrow down opportunities.
In these verses, Jesus mentions six actions that we do to him when we serve "the least of these."
He also tells his listeners that when we don't do these things to those in need, we are not serving him.
So during Lent, we are aiming to empty ourselves more than usual and be with Jesus in ways that we may not always be drawn to do. Put another way:
So this season of Lent finds our family trying to think of people or groups of people who fit into each of the six descriptions Jesus gave in Matthew 25, and then looking for how we might serve them. The "juice and crackers" one week was writing letters and cards and making coloring pages for my friend Ian who is in prison. I read aloud a recent letter from Ian, and we talked about what prison is like. And of course, I couldn't resist writing in his card an Anne Lamott quote that talks about prisoners.
Another week we counted up our money in the kids' "Giving Back to God" jar and realized that with the $80 saved, we could feed two families of four people for a month through an organization called "Engage Burkina." Thanks to TJ's work making videos for this group a while back, we had a past connection, albeit small, to the country of Burkina Faso. Our knowledge and heart for Burkina Faso grew, though, during one of our Serving Circles as our family found the country on a map, read about the people there, and watched the videos TJ had made. We talked about we can go to any one of our three pantries or two full refrigerators to get all the food we want, and how lots of the people in Burkina Faso don't even have adequate daily grain because of the drought in their country. Story asked, after watching the video, why the kids looked so happy if they are actually sad, which led to a great family discussion of the possibilities in Christ to find joy outside of our circumstances.
A third week we made cards for a family with a sick baby, and the kids colored ballerinas and flowers for their other two little girls. We included a Tandem gift card, which I think is much better than juice and graham crackers, and Cash, our little latte-lover, included a coloring page of a latte with a Tandem logo he drew. Though nothing fancy, we have found these family nights to be special times of intentional conversation and prayer for those we are trying to serve. We colored for the baby, then we prayed for the baby. We colored for Mr. Ian, then we prayed for Mr. Ian. We read about and watched the kids in Burkina Faso, and then we prayed for them.
The result is that our worlds have expanded to include Jesus in new ways: in prison, in hunger, in sickness. We have also made it a point during these days of Lent to invite to our home for dinner those whom we don't know well: not exactly complete strangers, but definitely not people we already have established friendships with. That has been different for us, but a great lesson on thinking beyond our usual circle of friends to the blessing of bringing camaraderie over a meal to others whom we haven't welcomed before.
With just over two weeks left until Easter, we have the thirsty and the naked to care for. I did recently buy wine and coffee as encouragement for a friend going through a difficult time, but not only are wine and coffee more about pleasure than about thirst, it also wasn't something our family did together. So lately over dinner, we've tossed around some ideas for these last two. Where will we find Jesus needing clothes and water? And how will seeing Jesus like this change us?
Anne Lamott asked her priest friend Tom to talk to her about Ash Wednesday, and I think his response applies to the whole season of Lent, not just the one day.
I wouldn't say it quite like that, but in surrendering, in looking outward, in finding ways as a family to walk humbly with God and others during this season, I do believe we are likely to be more changed than any of those we hope to help.