Lent’s Invitation to Parents

Steve Argue, PhD | Feb 25, 2021

I don’t like Lent.

Maybe it’s my personality: “7” on the Enneagram. I run from pain—seeking happy, fun experiences. Advent’s more my speed: lights, presents, parties, and Jesus arriving.

Don’t get me wrong. Lent’s important. After all, I am an ordained pastor and a professor at a Christian seminary. I can’t really dislike my brand—it’s bad business. And poor theology.

But, honestly, Lent makes me nervous because I’m a parent.

Lent marks 40 days before Easter. It’s a season that calls for reflection and replicates Jesus’ suffering and withdrawal into the desert—which looks quaint through stained glass depictions, but is truly death-defying. Especially for parents.

Lent manages to uncover every worst parenting worry, grief, and nightmare. Ash Wednesday kicks the season off with the reminder that we come from and return to ashes. I’ve watched these words spoken over my kids and my insides fight every fiber of that horrifying declaration.

For forty days, Lent asks us to face every scary parenting experience we work so hard to avoid or forget.

As a pastor I have buried parents’ kids because of a school shooter’s bullet or a drunk driver’s decision. I have stood with parents at hospital bedsides, hoping that their teenager, who thought he was invincible, would wake up from a motorcycle crash. And begging that their teenager, who thought she was invisible, would recover from a suicide overdose attempt.

I have seen teenagers, once open and imaginative, turn hard and inward to protect themselves from cruel words and unjust prejudices. And as a parent, I have seen my own kids’ eyes dim when my words were harsh, impatient, insensitive, or just plain wrong.

These memories still feel hauntingly, embarrassingly, infuriatingly, and heartbreakingly close.

Nobody told me parenting would be so hard or heavy.

Never have I loved and worried so much.

Never have I experienced such a wide range of pure joy and horrifying panic in my life.

Never have I failed another human being so miserably.

So, Lent’s call is a strange one. Instead of encouraging us to erase our experiences, this season invites us to feel our pain. Grieve our hurt. Face our failures.

To go there, where God is—in life’s lonely desert spaces, at hospital bedsides, in tear-filled hugs, on wordless car rides. And in the auto-replay memories of our parenting failures, we wish we could erase or do over.

In our work researching and writing Growing With, we heard again and again about the loneliness that parents of teenagers and emerging adults feel. Fears, disappointments, failures, and sorrows have tempted them to pull back, tune out, or give up. They become increasingly isolated, disconnected, embarrassed, ashamed.

Growing With is a practical parenting guide from Kara Powell and Steve Argue. We'd love to give you a FREE chapter—you'll find it at the bottom of this post!

Lent acknowledges parents’ deepest longings and losses.

It speaks what we struggle to say. It emotes what we find hard to express. And it invites us to share our experiences with others where, surprisingly, we find more solidarity than any other parenting experience: pain.

So though I really don’t like Lent, I need it.

Because I need a God who is near. And I need other parents who remind me that my parenting journey is real. Who assure me that parenting is for the courageous, the brave, the messy, the brokenhearted, and the unprepared.

Lent gives me permission to parent imperfectly, grieve openly, worry unashamedly, and love relentlessly.

Maybe this year’s Lent, we accept God’s invitation to be seen and held. To admit how we’re really doing and allow God’s presence to reach us and heal us. The good news is that we have 40 days to practice, to take steps toward God, and toward each other—where in our heartache we can find connection and company.

From one parent to another, I’m cautiously willing to accept Lent’s invitation. You would bring me courage if you are, too.

Whether you’re a parent of a teenager or you serve parents of teenagers in your ministry, here are some practices to try (or share with a parent you know) this Lenten season:

  1. Jot down some of your best and worst parenting moments. Imagine God cheering you on in those moments you shined, and forgiving you for those moments where you blew it. Receive God’s love and forgiveness today.
  2. Find a trusted friend who has kids near the same age as yours. Talk about your parenting experiences. Listen to one another’s longings and losses. Sometimes we don’t need answers, we just need someone who understands. Pray for each other as you experience God’s presence and good company.
  3. Read prayers of lament. Rely on others to give you words or images that help you express your parenting journey.
Tweet this: Lent invites us to feel our pain. Grieve our hurt. And face our failures. Here are 3 practices parents of teenagers can try this Lenten season.

Photo by Annika Gordon

Growing up doesn’t have to mean growing apart

Introducing three essential strategies to nurture family faith and relationships, Growing With is a parent's guide to journeying with your kid from adolescence through emerging adulthood.

Steve Argue, PhD

Steven Argue, PhD (Michigan State University) is the Applied Research Strategist for the Fuller Youth Institute (FYI) and Associate Professor of Youth, Family, and Culture at Fuller Theological Seminary. Steve researches, speaks, and writes on adolescent and emerging adult spirituality. He has served as a pastor on the Lead Team at Mars Hill Bible Church (Grand Rapids, MI), coaches and trains church leaders and volunteers, and has been invested in youth ministry conversation for over 20 years. Steve is the coauthor and contributor of a number of books, including Growing With, 18 Plus: Parenting Your Emerging Adult, and Joy: A Guide for Youth Ministry.


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