It's been eleven years since I last observed Lent as a single person. Back then, I was very much into the social and formal life of the Church. Of course, I attended Mass. I even went through periods of daily Mass attendance and Adoration during those times when my job allowed. In Lent, I would go to the meal of potato soup or some other meatless whatever at the parish on Friday evenings and then stay for Stations of the Cross. It made Lent, for me, a more special time of devotion.
But that was ten years of marriage and three kids ago. I was single until I was thirty-five years old, so I had watched many of my peers go from active in the diocesan young adults group and other church activities to "disappeared" several times. I often joked that marriage was a separate physical dimension where people lived on, you just never saw them again.
I was determined that my fate would not be similar, that I would retain single friends and continue in my church activities. It wasn't until I crossed the threshhold of that alternate reality that I found out why that just wasn't going to happen.
My wife was also in her mid-thirties and we decided not to delay (via NFP) our entry into parenthood. Given our ages, we figured we would have time for three or four children given a fair amount of spacing. Our first one, our son, was born ten months after we were married.
During that ten months we both made a good effort at keeping contact with the old, still single, friends. But, slowly, inevitably, our lives diverged from those who had yet to marry or would never marry. In late pregnancy, my wife was less inclined to want to socialize and, after the birth, well, it became all about the child. And, then the second one. And, then the third.
Of course, that is how it should be and as we slowly faded into that alternate reality, so also did my active participation in the life of the Church. Young children make even going to Mass something that you have to really want and really work at. Most of my memories of Mass over the past ten years are of sitting in the cry room with babies and squirming toddlers and getting up sometime during the Liturgy of the Eucharist to take one or two of the kids for a walk outside, or to the bathroom for a diaper change. I know Jesus and the priest were at the Mass also, I just don't remember much about them.
It didn't take much to realize that we weren't going to be going to Stations during Lent. And, even if we had, there would be no lingering in quiet personal prayer or adult fellowship afterward. It would be a crying, fighting, squirmfest with no feeling of having done anything worthwhile at the end and we knew it. So, my Lent has been a fairly dreary time of fast and abstinence without any special observance to break the monotony for many years now.
But, every dark tunnel has a light at the end of it. When I say this I don't mean that I don't treasure my children, I mean I think we are entering a third physical dimension that I can only vaguely describe as "married with older children." As I look around, I no longer see other couples with children in diapers, much the way I looked around after I got married and no longer saw single people.
My son is now nine and the youngest is out of diapers, bottles and even sippy cups. When we get into the car, we no longer have to strap each child into a special seat with a five-point harness and make sure we have our bag of extra clothes and other kid emergency supplies. They just get in and two of the three buckle in themselves. Even better, the oldest now buckles in the youngest.
There are other things, as well. They all dress themselves.When the oldest one is ready for lunch, he can make it for himself and also for the other two. My son and I can now get through a decade of the Rosary together in the evenings and, if we miss for some reason, he assures me he still prays on his own. At church this past Sunday, he went to confession on his own without any prompting just because he thought he needed to.
The other two aren't far behind him. And, as they have grown less dependent, my wife and I have managed to do more. I now make the Wednesday morning men's group at the parish. I've also hit about every other Knights of Columbus meeting. I'm even feeling overconfident enough to think that I might actually go on retreat this summer.
Oh, and I might just take my son to Stations. No doubt I will appreciate them more than I ever did when I was single—the end of a personal Lent making Lent all the more rewarding.