Lent - Just Another Tradition?

Becky: Lent has always been one of my favorite seasons of the church year. I'm not really sure why, but it just is. :) Why is it that so many denominations and churches don't observe Lent? Why is it that we do? What is the purpose of having the midweek service and of the tradition of "fasting" from something?

Dad: Lent has been a meaningful time for me as well, similar to Advent. I guess for me it has meaning because so much of what we do as Christians can easily become routines of habit, and Lent and Advent are designed specifically to help bring meaning and preparation of hearts to receive what God wants to do in us. As you know, I don’t like to just do stuff because we always do them. I like to ask why, and dig until I really know. Lent and Advent fulfill that need I feel to know why. They also take us away from the commercialism of their respective celebrations (Easter & Christmas). It’s difficult to commercialize self-reflection, meditation and prayer.

Different denominations have discovered meaning in different traditions, and have developed them independently of each other; however, as in any human endeavor, some of our practices can become reactions to abuses, or even heresies. During the Reformation, there was a desire to bring salvation to individuals, and not just center the Christian life on an institution and its practices, which in many ways had grown corrupt and distant from God’s Word. When renewal comes, some respond by trying to eliminate those things that remind them of that which they are trying to overcome. As a result, a few church bodies developed a tradition of seeking not to look Roman Catholic. Things that some rejected were statues, icons, symbols, crosses – especially crucifixes, stations of the cross, formal saints, praying to Mary, formal confession, the seasons of the church year (Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, Easter, etc.), seminary training of pastors, robes, liturgy, stained glass windows, formalized expressions of faith, infant baptism, the real presence of Christ in the Lord’s Supper, etc. The result, however, of basing meaning on a reaction against something, is that we may miss some of the good that some of these traditions help us receive.

We observe Lent because it gives us the opportunity to ponder more deeply what Jesus did to save us from our sins. We focus on those Scriptures that tell the story of His suffering and death, and the teachings He gave us during that time. Increased prayer time, fasting, wearing a cross, holding additional worship services, giving up something we like, etc. can be helpful in deepening our relationship with Jesus. As in anything, the better we are prepared, the better time we have when the event comes. Easter is more glorious and exciting, and carries more meaning if we take the time to understand the depths of the suffering preceding the Resurrection.


But I Don't Like You!

Becky: The other night, while we were watching a movie as a family, we all noticed that the heroine was being very foolish in allowing a man she quite obviously didn't like continue pursuing her, without telling him that she wasn't interested. Dad, you jokingly (with a tinge of seriousness) turned to me and said, "You'd better not ever lead a guy on like that!"

So now, my question is this: What are the things a girl does to "lead on" a guy? How can a girl have meaningful friendships with the young men around her, without making them think that she likes them? Are their several absolute "do not do this if you don't want a guy to think you're interested" gestures, words, or actions?

Dad: Just to set the record straight, guys can do the same things, as far as leading on. Watching Spiderman 2 reminded me. Peter is conflicted about his role as a super-hero, and his love for M.J. He feels he can't tell her how he feels because it would put her in danger with his enemies. I bring this up because what drives me crazy is the lack of communication between people who obviously have a certain level of trusting relationship, even if it is just a good friendship.

Balancing on the tightrope of young relationships is extremely difficult, and if you make it to the other end without ever falling, you'll be one in a million (which reminds me of a Paul Overstreet song which reminds me of you, but I digress...). If you can actually define the status of a relationship it helps you determine what is appropriate. In the movie situation you mentioned, the guy had clearly stated his intentions -- to marry her. In that situation, it just bugged me that she really didn't like him, and yet just barely put him off. She could have just stated straight out that she wasn't interested, that he should stop pursuing her, and he should consider looking for someone else. The problem is that quickly resolved conflict makes movies too short, so they had to keep it going until he did something really dumb.

In real life, people don't usually pursue each other so blatently. Occasionally someone will ask the other if their relationship will ever move to the next level, and in that case, tactful honesty is the best response. If you're not sure how best to answer, or are unsure of your answer, it's okay to say you'll have to think about how to reply, and share with your parents, or a mature, trusted friend/mentor how you feel, and get suggestions about how to respond. In reality, the typical situation involves uncertainty about the future of a relationship, and both are reluctant to ask about it, or even wonder if they should.

Since you and I have talked about the courting concept vs. dating, I won't go into that here, but in your case, if the subject comes up with a male friend, it may be wise to share your planned approach. That way, you may relieve any tension either of you may feel as you get to know each other. One sure fire way to avoid conflict in this area is to keep from getting too close in the first place. That may seem cold, but if they think there is a possible dating relationship, and you don't get too close, it may not come up, and if it does, you can explain your plan.

Overall, clear communication as opposed to hoping they get it by hints, lies, tricks, etc. is better. It's funny that, like Peter Parker, we think our good friend can't handle the truth, so we may keep them guessing. If we have a trusted friend, let them decide how they will handle the truth. If they are mature, they will process it and go on. If not, they aren't the right person anyway. A few weeks after Mom and I became friends in college, she asked me if I thought our relationship would ever become more than just friends. I said, "Probably not," and she said it relieved some tension, and enabled her to just be friends and let things happen naturally, if they were to happen at all. Of course I was just unsure at the time, and we eventually saw what God had in mind. It just helped to open the subject and have that understanding.

One strategy that you can use to communicate is referring pursuers to your Dad. You can just say, " before I date/court anyone, he has to talk to my Dad." That way only the most confident guys will continue, and that gives you the chance to let me know what you think about him, and I can fend him off accordingly, or if you think it's a good thing, I can check him out for you, and encourage him too continue.

As far as what "leads a guy on"... It doesn't take much. Remember that guys are especially suckered by flirting. If you look at him in that ever-so-slightly-overly-friendly way that just might say, "I could possibly be interested in you," he will see it as an invitation to pursue. Also, what you wear (revealing, tight, etc.), how you stand (bent over, butt sticking out, leaning on him, etc.), and any physical touch communicate far more than you realize. Guys are so visually and physically motivated. Just be careful, and assume that any of those kinds of friendliness can be misunderstood. Obviously everyone is different as far as the degree to which those things affect them, but guys are still guys.

(You can see why some take an extremely conservative course -- long dresses, high collars, no dating, etc. It's not because they are naive about sex, it's because they understand it's power, and don't even want any hints of going that direction.)

In the long run, we all appreciate genuineness in relationships. If a guy thinks a girl is flirting, he might like it, but when he is alone, thinking it through, he may have the maturity to realize she's being shallow. Now, not all flirting is bad. Those "shallow" routines can be the start of interest, but they won't sustain a genuine relationship.

What you are doing with your group of friends is healthy. You do a lot as a group, and there's almost no "dating" going on. If you are all mostly on the same page, a lot of difficulty will be avoided. Another thing you are doing that is especially helpful is developing relationships with other girls. Guys should have other guy friends too. A lot of good discussion can develop, and you can help each other grow spiritually, and work out how you are going to approach these things.

(Annie, the movie Becky mentioned was "Belle and the Beast", a modern adaptation of "Beauty and the Beast." It was fair as far as movies go, but the messages were good.)


On being an older sibling

Dad: Now I have a question for you. You seem to spend a lot of time serving your family by shopping, baby-sitting, playing taxi-driver, cleaning up around the house, etc, etc, etc. Do you ever feel resentful? If so, how do you deal with it, and if not, why not?

Becky: Ironically, the reason I have not yet been able to answer this is because my older sibling duties this week have kept me quite busy! However, since I am having a sick day, I have been temporarily relieved of some of those responsibilities, and figured blogging was a nice break from sleeping.

To be honest, I haven't thought about this in a while. I used to be very resentful. Especially last year, when Andy (my older brother) was attending public school, and I was the oldest at home for the first time. He would normally not come home from practice until around dinnertime, then spent much of the evening doing homework. On the weekends, he would invariably sleep in, and then spend time chilling with his friends. I slowly grew more and more upset at the little he did to help out around the house.

One evening, he was sitting in the kitchen for some reason, as I was washing the dishes. I blew up at him, and started ranting and raving about how unfair it was that I did all the chores and extra things around home, and that he never contributed at all, etc. etc. Being Andy, he let me yell away for a while before simply saying something along these lines: "Becky, isn't one of your primary goals in life to be a wife and a mother? I, on the other hand, am going to have to support a family. Right now, you are doing things that will prepare you for what your future is going to be; I am going to school and playing sports as a part of preparing for what I want my future to be. When you get married, do you think that your husband will come home from work every night and go around picking up the house and washing the dishes for you?" (And, typical of Andy. . . although he didn't admit at that point that he should be doing more around the house, I did notice him helping out a bit more after our conversation. :)

It was then I realized the problem of my point of view. I had been thinking of all the things I did around the house as "extras," simply because the other kids didn't do them. From then on, I chose to think about the things I did differently. They were not extra, in addition to what I ought to be doing - rather, I found that everything I did fell under a category which could be titled "the role of a big sister and daughter, namely Rebekah Hall, in her family." After all, this really is my only role in life right now. I don't have the responsibility of a family, a husband, or a job. I am under the authority of my parents, and I honor and obey by serving them and my siblings. This is what God has called me to do right now, in life - it's not glamorous, or exciting, but it is rewarding. To have my siblings, especially the youngest ones, be so comfortable with me, and so free in their expressions of love, makes everything really worth it. And to know that Mom and Dad appreciate what I do is also nice. :)

So really, I don't think about being resentful anymore. When I do get angry or frustrated with my siblings in regard to chores, it's not because I feel that they aren't pulling their share. It's more that I'm concerned they won't learn how to work hard, and do things without being asked - taking some of the burden off of Mom and Dad in doing so. And I must admit, I do occasionally get frustrated that I often seem to have the responsibilities of a parent, and yet not the authority of one. It can make a day at home babysitting somewhat difficult to manage.

One more thing - I think that one way Dad and Mom have really helped me to not be resentful is by allowing me to have a lot of time doing my own thing, with my friends. They have always encouraged us to have our friends over, and our friends know that fun times and good food are always to be found at the Hall house. They make our home a place that others like to gather, and are almost always willing to host whatever schemes we come up with. For example, yesterday I spent all day on a mini-road trip with my friends. We drove our family's 12-passenger van all the way into St. Louis, and spent the morning at the zoo. The trust my parents place in me, and my friends, makes being a good daughter pretty easy. They have given me a lot of freedom in how I choose to spend my time, and this makes it hard indeed to be resentful!

I credit their good parenting to the fact that I choose to spend most of my time at home, with my family, in my role as sister and daughter. And the more time I spend with my siblings, the more it becomes a joy, not a burden.

Dad: Keeping your perspective on your long-term goals seems to be a good strategy for dealing with momentary challenges. In case we don't say it enough, we really do appreciate your role in our family, and will miss you next year, except that your siblings will get a chance to learn what you're learning. It is also humbling to realize that we as parents have weaknesses, and that all of our children will be stronger than we are in some area. As we are all honest about our abilities and efforts, granting grace for failure, and encouragement in success, we can be a good family team as we work through our child-raising years.

There was a time that Mom and I were quite critical of our parents and their weaknesses. As we saw it then, we used it as an opportunity learn from their mistakes and do our parenting right. Don't get me wrong, we had exceptional parents, but in our simplistic minds, we were going to do better by not making the same mistakes. We did better than they did in some areas, but have now experienced our own set of weaknesses, and therefore, mistakes. The advantage you have being an older sibling is that you get to see more parenting first-hand, and even practice at times. You will have strengths and weaknesses we don't, and maybe even the maturity to recognize them earlier than we did.

Humility is a key to this, and it seems most of life. In your case, you will probably do a better job of parenting than we are doing, but then again, maybe that means we're on the right track.


Leading Others

Becky: Okay, so my first question. (I have debated about what this very first, oh so important question should be. . .and haven't been hit with any great inspirations. So, here is something that randomly struck me the other day and isn't terribly important or inspirational).
Dad, what does it take to become a good leader, especially for a teenager, leading his/her peers? So often, I feel myself get placed in a role where I ought to be leading, but can't seem to do so without coming across as bossy. How can I lead in such a way that people will want to follow?

Dad: Actually, this is an extremely important question, and depending on the context, could be inspirational as well. One reason this is such an important question these days is that we see so many poor examples of leadership. We see the failure of so called role-models, such as professional athletes who use drugs, get involved in extra-marital affairs, or are arrested for beating up someone. These are clearly bad examples of leadership. I remember one athlete, whose name escapes me, saying, "I am not a role-model," by which he meant, he didn't want the pressure of being a role-model because he would be expected to behave himself. Unfortunately, today, famous people are role-models whether they want to be or not, simply because people follow their example.

Here I suppose we can make a distinction between a role-model and a leader. A role-model is a type of leader whom others emulate simply because of their role in society, whether they like it or not. A true leader is usually intentional about leading, or becomes intentional because others begin to follow. In your case, you are a role-model because you are a big sister, and friend to others who are younger who see you as a role-model. People don't get to decide not to be a role-model. They just are because of their role in others' lives. True leaders develop their position as a role-model, or by occupation or calling and lead others to accomplish something.

A truly good leader is difficult to find, but there are qualities of leadership that you will see in good leaders. The first, and most important quality of good leadership is humility. There are many leaders, but few humble leaders. You may have heard the term "servant leadership." This means that a good leader isn't a dictator, but leads by example first so that they aren't a "do as I say, not as I do" type leader. That negative attitude will cause a leader to lose respect quickly. Unfortunately, pride leads many leaders to have the attitude that, "I'm the leader, so you have to do what I say." Humility says, "I am following someone too, because I also have a lot I need to learn."

Second, a leader must have integrity and character. As a leader, you are a role-model, and what you do when no one is looking, will eventually be seen. Your example of humble integrity will say more than your profound speeches. Here is where the world has it backwards. Napoleon Dynamite says that what you need is skills. Actually, what is more important is character. If you have great leadership skills, but lack character, you will compromise truth, engender mistrust, and eventually lead people in the wrong direction. There is a long history of famous leaders who had great skills, but poor character. Yes, many followed them, but where were they really going? A few quick examples are Napoleon, Hitler, Stalin, Jim Jones, and a less extreme modern example, Bill Clinton. Sorry Bill, but while you may have been popular, your lack of moral character led America in taking greater steps toward societal immorality. Time in God's Word, worship, prayer, and time spent with others of strong character will help you develop character.

Third, leadership skills are very important. While character is more important, because it determines the direction you lead, skills are also needed so that you can actually lead. Character takes a life-time to develop, and can be easily destroyed. Loss of character can permanently mar your trust with others. Skills, on the other hand, are more easily gained, and are never lost, just constantly refined. Leadership skills deal with how you organize, listen to others, delegate, train others, communicate, raise up other leaders, etc. You can learn leadership skills by reading, attending classes/seminars, learning from others, and experience.

Probably the most powerful quality of leadership, but also the most dangerous, is vision. All the negative examples of leadership have a powerful vision. But so do positive leaders. Vision is what usually motivates followers. If you have a strong sense of vision, and can communicate it to enough people, you will most likely develop a following. Your humility, character and skills will keep people following. The ability to keep the vision as the primary motivation is also essential for long-term success.

As a teen leader, these principles definitely apply. (What do teens like to be called these days? teens, young people, dudes & dudettes...) Teens flounder because of lack of vision. They don't seem to know where they are going. If you want to be a good leader, continue to seek the Lord as far as your personal vision. If you know where you are going, or at least know how you will find out, you will be a leader among your peers, whether you want to be or not. Then, as you become more confident, which is a by-product of having the above-mentioned qualities, and if you have a real love and concern for your peers, you will become a good leader. If you see that you are becoming a leader, you need to seek ways (mentioned above) to develop character and skills.

With your peers, you will make major progress by simply listening. People don't care how much you know until they know how much you care. Trite, yes, but true. Be patient as you grow. Becoming a good leader takes a life time, but you are well on your way. I see many of these qualities already developing in you. Don't let your role as a leader go to your head. Pride in leadership is considerably more common than humility. It eventually leads to mistrust, instead of relational followers. If you stay humble, you will be more likely to learn quickly.

God bless you as you discover His direction for your life, and in that confidence lead others to what God desires for them.


Our First Post

Becky: So remind me why we're doing this blog again? Besides the fact that both of us have just so much time on our hands these days. ; )

Dad: Well, we have such a great time discussing the things we care about, and remember, we thought it might be fun for others to listen in on our chats. It's not often a dad has such an insightful daughter he can spend time with discussing topics relevant to everyday life. Besides, you ask great questions, and I enjoy trying to come up with answers that actually help you. Plus, I have questions you answer pretty well too. So, ask away. What do you want to talk about?

Becky: First, I think we should clue everyone in a bit as to the format of this blog. If you read the brief history on the sidebar, you'll see that this all started as conversations in the car, and us pretending to have our own talk show. We hope to continue that style on this blog. The basic idea will be that one of us posts a question - and the other will answer. The ensuing back and forth conversation will quite possibly bring up new topics of discussion. . . we'll try to keep it all organzied though, with labels and a new post for each new subject, so you can find things easily. Also, we'd love to hear your thoughts! (Isn't that part of what blogging is all about?) Please, feel more than free to comment on each post about what you think. Also, if you have a question you want answered, ask away! Parents - I am here to give you a feel for a teenager's point of view on those tough questions that you might not be ready to ask your kids yet. And teens - Dad is just great at answering questions you might not be comfortable asking your parents. : ) Annonymous comments are fine as well, obviously only nice words. As Thumper's mother says, "If you can't say nothin' nice, don't say nothin' at all."