Tiffany Walsh reminisces about bringing young children to church on Ash Wednesday, noting how we can always learn something new about our faith.
I know that we are already a few weeks into Lent, but I happened upon this adorable Ash Wednesday memory on my blog recently, and it called to mind how much I miss sharing the newness of seasonal traditions with toddlers and younger children. My Henry is now somehow 16, but he was 4 when this tale went down. It made me happily reminisce, remembering how tired I felt during those years, but how precious these moments are.
At the time, I did not appreciate how fleeting those years would be. Having a 16-year-old who enjoys spending quite a lot of time in his room, aside from emerging to eat and to request to go out for driving lessons, is an entirely different experience from having an inquisitive preschooler. It brought a huge smile to my face to remember who my husband and I affectionately call “little Henry.”
When Henry and I first arrived at the church, everything was all very exciting to him. Within two minutes, the inevitable comes:
"How much longer do we have to wait?"
"Not long, Honey. Just try to pay attention."
Since we had arrived late due to a rainstorm and parking difficulties, we had a truncated liturgy ahead, but Henry was still antsy. He managed to get water from our umbrella all over (a) the pew, (b) himself, and (c) me. I did somehow engage his attention at the blessing of the ashes, and then it was time for us to line up. As soon as we are back in our pew with our ashes, Henry noticed something that I notice every Ash Wednesday:
"Mommy, yours doesn't look like a cross."
"I know, Honey. Ashes are kind of hard to smudge exactly into the shape of a cross. But Father made a cross sign when he put them on our foreheads, and that's the important thing."
*Henry touches his forehead*
"Honey, don't touch your forehead, because it'll make all the ashes come off."
*Henry touches his forehead*
"Don't you want to show Daddy your ashes when we get home?"
*Henry sits on his hands*
Finally, ash distribution was complete, and we all rise for the Prayers of the Faithful. On only the second "Lord, Hear Our Prayer," I glance over at Henry. His forehead is completely empty of ash.
"Honey, what happened?"
"What do you mean, Mommy?"
"Well, your ashes are all gone."
*Henry begins to cry*
Can all parents relate to our inadvertent sacramental shenanigans here? Now that my children are older, I long to live through these sweet times again. But experiencing the Church’s liturgical year is, in a sense, new to us every single year, due to natural changes in our lives and personal growth.
It takes a bit more convincing to my children these days that going to church is exciting, but I still enjoy experiencing our traditions through their eyes. They inevitably ask a question about something to which I do not know the answer, or notice something different than what my eye picks up, and we all learn together. It’s a tremendous blessing to experience the faith with my children, rainstorm in my pew, and all.
How have you experienced Lenten traditions with your children, both small and grown? I would love to hear about it in the comments!
Copyright 2022 Tiffany Walsh
Images courtesy of Holy Cross Family Ministries, all rights reserved.
About the Author
Tiffany Walsh is a wife and mother, a native western New Yorker, and a college librarian. She is a cradle Catholic who rekindled her childhood faith as a graduate student via her love of books, and is the author of Exploring the Catholic Classics, part of the Stay Connected Journals for Catholic Women series. She enjoys writing about faith, crafting, dance, fitness and wellness. Visit her blog at Life of a Catholic Librarian.