But at our Wednesday gathering, we experienced a different aspect of the service: young children running across the linoleum floors, totally oblivious to the solemnity of the occasion. While the rest of us were receiving the ashes on our foreheads, my son ran to the piano and plunked at the keys before anyone could stop him. The black ribbons we tied together as a symbol of our unity in brokenness, my daughter was attempting to use as a jump rope.
As a mother, I was just a little bit horrified and all I wanted them to be was quiet and well-behaved.
But then someone stopped me. A friend with older children (who usually knows just what to say) approached me after the service.
She loved that our children were oblivious to the soberness of the service. She loved that nothing would stop their joy. She loved that we are supposed to have faith and hearts like theirs...full and lively.
So here is this tension of Lent and our lives in Christ. Our faith does and should include the darker things. We will mourn and grieve and be penitent. But we should also share in the joy of celebration, just like our children. Just as we celebrate death on Ash Wednesday, joyful that death will take us to new life, we can acknowledge that death is very very sad. That though Jesus has overcome it, we still feel death's sting.
I'd like to live in this tension of death-grieving and mortality celebration. I'd like to be joyful in sorrow and patient in solemnity.
And I'd like to be a little more observant of the way my children approach worship and prayer, with unstoppable joy.