The Best Penitential Season Ever, Or, A Lenten Kinship with the Devil

On Breaking Bones and Idealized Visions of Motherhood

Sarah Condon / 3.2.20

This year, my Lent was going to be the greatest in the history of all penitential seasons. I wanted to do something manageable that might make a big impact on my overall life: I had decided that I would go to bed every night at 9:30pm. This seemed achievable and wise. Not overly spiritual or diet-related.

And I did this for one reason only. I had decided that I was going to be a better mother in the morning. I am one of those people who swears I will go to bed by 10pm but then I discover a vortex of reality dating shows or British baking dramas and suddenly it is midnight and I’ve eaten an entire bag of Dove chocolates and am quantifiably dumber.

In other words, I am a mother in the year 2020.

So I wake up groggy and rushed. I yell things like, “I THINK I CAN HEAR THE BUS” even though it’s two blocks away. I have a whole speech about getting your shoes on. I will spare you.

But not this Lent. This year, I was going to get 8+ hours of sleep and be one of those mothers who bakes muffins in the morning. Big plans. I had a vision of motherhood that included early morning yoga, perhaps some quiet time with the Lord, and constantly smiling at my progeny.

Then, on the Thursday after Ash Wednesday, the second day of Lent, our son broke his arm. And I realized that my 40 Days of Gwyneth Paltrow’s Glow Plan was sitting at the bottom of a slide, in shock, with a broken arm for the second time in one year.

Yeah, you read that right.

But this is not about God not giving me what I wanted. This is about God giving me precisely what I prayed for. The mother who rises early to brush her hair, who magically finds shiplap behind her kitchen wallpaper, who legitimately feeds her kids flax: she does not actually exist. Hear me when I say that the women who represent these women are not actually these women.

Parenthood is not meaningful because we check all of the boxes for what a good mom or dad looks like. Most of those perceived qualities are all for us anyway. Our kids do not give a hoot if we get up the morning and do yoga. And they like the store-bought muffins from the non-organic grocery store because it is fun to have cake for breakfast.

Being a parent is potent and powerful when we suffer alongside our children. This is what shapes me into the mother I prayed God would make me this Lent. And this is what I have been given.

In the days that followed the accident, I said to a friend that I felt bad for thinking God had broken my child’s arm so that my Lent might be unraveled. And she said, “Sarah, he was going to break his arm no matter what. God just has really good timing.”

I will not be getting enough sleep this Lent. As I write this piece I am already so tired. Lent is going to consist of sleeping with a third grader to help him prop up his arm and bracing myself for those accidental whacks to my face in the middle of the night. My Lent is going to be giving him sponge baths and consoling him through a missed baseball season. So I will not be the kind of mom I had planned on becoming. But God is firmly making me into the kind of mom He had planned on me becoming.

When I heard the passage from Matthew in church on Sunday, I felt something I have never felt before. I actually realized I had a bit of kinship with the Devil. He puts big offers in front of Jesus to tempt Him: food, protection, power. And all of this was an attempt to shape Jesus into what the Devil wanted Him to be. Isn’t that precisely what I had done this Lent?

We always come at Lent like we are going to shape God. Like we are going to tell him all about our willpower and our devotion to Him. We are, in so many ways, a bit like the devil in this passage. Making Jesus an offer about us that He cannot refuse.

Only, He does refuse. God takes our plans and pushes them further this season. He pulls them apart and puts them back together. In so many ways, Lent is the season when Jesus shapes us. I wanted to tell the Lord that if He would just give me enough sleep I might be the mother we had always dreamed about me being!

But God does not keep a vision board for His beloved children. Instead, He keeps us so close to His heart that when our plans completely fall apart, we do not suffer alone. We can be confident that He will lay in bed with us, occasionally getting hammered by broken arm, not worried if we will be late for the bus, and with no speech in hand about finding our shoes.

Hell, God will probably even let us eat those cake muffins for breakfast.

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8 responses to “The Best Penitential Season Ever, Or, A Lenten Kinship with the Devil”

  1. Love this. (Insert all of the heart emojis.)

  2. Juliette says:

    Thank you, Sarah! I love that we both had posts today about the struggle of being a parent. Thank you for the reminder that suffering alongside your children is a powerful thing and that God has better plans for us than the ones we think will make us perfect parents. I will be praying that you all get some rest!

  3. Pam B says:

    I’m sorry your son broke his arm again. Prayers for his healing and for your peace as you “love on him” and he loves you back. God bless you and thank you for sharing your heart!

  4. DALE E KLITZKE says:

    I had never thought about us having a kinship with the devil. You have a gift for seeing scripture from a unique angle which makes your preaching and writing a true gift for all of that follow you. Thank you, Sarah, for sharing that gift.

  5. Michael Cooper says:

    Sarah, you have an amazing gift for seeing the gospel path through a passage of holy writ that has “law” land mines all over it for the earnest and unwary pilgrim. Also, thank you for the artful Southern cussing.

  6. Billy says:

    That’s a bad fx!

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