Lent Lessons from Dad

My dad died almost 21 years ago, but memories of him can be so vivid that sometimes it feels like he is sitting in my living room.  Take this past week for instance. I stared at my computer, trying to figure out what exactly to write about Lent. I focused on words like confession and repentance and sacrifice, hoping that profound, lofty words would flow from my fingers, leading us all into a deeper, more meaningful Lent experience. Instead, I kept picturing my dad as an usher at church, standing there smiling in his handsome suit, smelling like Old Spice and Juicy Fruit gum. After several days, I decided to listen and see if there might be a lesson involved.

Dad served as an usher at the Episcopal Church for as long as I can remember. He represented everything a church would want in an usher. He was kind, attentive, responsible, and joyful. Standing in the back of the church, holding the church bulletin, Dad was the first person people saw when they walked into church on Sundays. He greeted each person with a handshake or a hug and made them feel like they were the most important person entering the sanctuary. He took special care of the older members of the congregation, often escorting them to their favorite pew. I watched as he walked an older woman to her seat and smiled as he leaned in to whisper something that made her laugh. He then returned to the back of the church to greet the next guest with a smile.

During the offering, Dad passed the big silver plate down each pew. As the organ played, he often seemed far away in his thoughts, biting the side of his mouth just like I do now. I often wonder what he thought about in those quiet, reflective moments. Even during the offering he would pat someone on the shoulder or shake hands with them, always willing to share kindness with a friendly smile or wink. You weren’t invisible at church if my dad was an usher. You were significant and special, and he was so glad that you were there.

As the ushers walked down the aisle to present the communion gifts and offerings, Dad’s humble gratitude was always apparent. He showed deep respect for this moment, understanding the significance of communion, humbled by the power of the body and blood of Christ. Without saying a word, I knew it was an act of worship for Dad to process down the aisle, never taking it lightly. Watching as an eight year old, I learned not to take it lightly either.

I loved sitting with my dad in church. When he didn’t have to usher, I scooted over to make room for him, insisting that he sit next to me. Even though we were supposed to sit up straight and be well behaved during the service, Dad always let me lean into him and wrap my arms around him. And in those safe, comfy moments, it didn’t seem so foreign to hear the priest pray to God the Father.

So what does any of this have to do with Lent? I am not really sure, but I think my dad modeled what a relationship with God should look like and he did this without a lot of words. What if I walked through life the way my dad ushered at church? What if I made each person feel like they mattered and weren’t invisible? What if I took the time to walk with someone to their destination, to help them find their favorite spot, to make them laugh along the way.

Like Dad, I want to humbly come before God with my offerings and consider the beauty and gift of the body and blood of Christ. To take the time to examine spiritual things and seek truth in my life. Seems like a good lesson for Lent today.

1 John 3:18 “Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue, but with actions and in truth.”