As a child, I attended Catholic school and was part of a practicing Catholic family. When Lent rolled around, we all grumbled and groaned if Ash Wednesday fell before (or *gasp* even ON) Valentine’s Day, because that pretty much meant the standard sacrifice of candy was going to mean that Valentine’s Day was no fun. And when Lent came around, we knew everyone would ask, “What are you giving up for Lent?” but we also felt guilty saying what we were giving up because we remembered Jesus saying somewhere in the Gospels that is was not good to go around telling everyone what you were sacrificing. I hated to sacrifice, and never were quite sure what to do that was “worthy”, but no one wanted to talk about it because that was like bragging about your sacrifice…so everyone went around being crabby for 6 weeks, not eating chocolate, not watching TV, not swearing, not fighting, but hating every minute and quite possibly not growing any closer to God at all, due to all the grumbling and internal whining about how hard it is to give up chocolate.And then I went to college, where people talked about how great Lent was last year…and I looked at them as if they had three eyes. A great Lent?! What? What? WHAT?!Oh, friends, it is possible. It is meant for greatness, for growing in faith, for renewal. It is even possible in our families, and with our children. Here are some ways my family “does” Lent. Don’t worry about doing it all. Especially don’t think I’m a perfect mom with a sweet little brood of happy holy children who happily do all these ideas, either. Far from it! We have been at this practice for 10 years now, and each year I change things, and each year things become more a part of our family’s faith life. It has happened gradually, over time, bit by bit! And with different ages of kids, our practices change.
(The devotional pictured is also by Donna Marie Cooper O’Boyle, with stories and quotes from Blessed Mother Theresa. It is another great choice. I didn’t have the St. Therese version until after prepping the photos for this post.)
We are going to be reading from a devotional by Donna Marie Cooper O’Boyle, “Bringing Lent Home with St. Therese of Lisieu”, probably each morning. This devotional has short readings, prayers, stories of the saint’s life, and suggestions for each part of Lenten living: fasting, praying, almsgiving. This book is such a great resource, it basically is a handbook and devotional wrapped into one beautiful little book.
I stumbled across an idea to create a calendar of individuals to pray for, one for each day. This is something we’ll add, because how simple is it to prayer for one person by name each day, and we can all use the prayers!
Stations of the Cross: We might attend a few of the services at church, but I also like the hands-on experience of having a basket with symbols for each station. We have done this before, reading from a book for children, and the kids take turns picking out the symbol. We’ll be making a new basket this year, since what we used before was lost in the move, or just moved around and disassembled.
It is my hope that we will also be able to attend Daily Mass once a week.
I am going to stay off the social media during the main hours of the day, and trying to avoid sweets.
The kids…will decide on their own. As a mentioned, there are ideas in the devotional, so we’ll be working with those suggestions daily.
Every year we try to avoid eating out during Lent, so that will be a family practice again this year.
Last year I saved an idea found online, which is to have a box set aside, and each day, choose one food item from the pantry to add to the box. At the end of Lent, 40 things have been collected for the food pantry. I love this idea so much! We are going to start doing this, and each kid will take a turn choosing something. There are so many lessons to be learned in such a simple act: the kids will learn generosity, giving up things we could have eaten (and probably things they would have enjoyed), and recognizing the blessings of food that we have. We are not wanting, which is such a gift. And since we’re able, we can and should be generous with those in need. Hopefully at the end of Lent, the kids will feel good about how much they’ve been able to donate, and understand just a little bit how blessed we are.
Other things we do:
Whenever the kids do something kind, or give something up, or offer an extra prayer, they add a bean to our candle jar. It’s a symbol of their sacrifices, their gifts of love, adding up through Lent. Sometimes we’ve made a switch from the beans to jelly beans, sometimes we haven’t. They take pride in adding beans to the jar, though, and being able to see “proof” of their good deeds. St. Therese used to carry sacrifice beads with her, and move a bead each time she offered something out of love. This is a similar idea, without worrying about who lost their beads or if they went through the laundry.
Also, I found a fabulous idea at Team Whitaker, which is a “Prayer, Fasting, Almsgiving” basket. We are going to do try to do this also. The idea is to have a basket full of slips or tags, with an idea for prayer, fasting, or almsgiving written down. Each day, one child picks a tag and that is the “thing” to do that day. Since it might duplicate the ideas in the devotional, I am not sure how long doing both will last, but I have high hopes, as long as it stays simple and doesn’t become too much. After all, if we are doing so many things, but not actually taking the time to focus on Jesus and preparing our hearts, all the doing is of little value. I would rather my children open their hearts more to God’s love, than just spend their days bustling about doing what the tags tell them to do.
I know listing out all the things seems like a lot, but my hope is to keep it simple, keep what do meaningful, and have our actions and prayers be a blessing to our family and to others. I already pray daily in the morning before school begins, so instead of what we had been choosing, we’ll use the devotional. Adding Daily Mass once a week will be a challenge, but what a great sacrifice to make, to be nourished on the journey with the greatest prayer and sacrament there is! In the end, my “mission” this Lent is to bless my family in my own actions, and help them grow and prepare their hearts more for Jesus. If anything we’re doing together isn’t working, I will reevaluate. Right now, my family needs simplicity and blessing. And once something gets in the way of that, and hinders our walk with Christ, I’ll change it. I am excited for our Lent this year, and hope you will have a blessed Lent, too!
If you are still looking for ideas, I have a Pinterest board just for Lent.