Dear ones, Lent is upon us.
It is time to set aside the Ordinary Time of winter and embrace the beauty and simplicity of the Lenten season. Did she really just refer to Lent as beautiful?? I did. Naturally, I will have plenty of groan-worthy moments during Lent. We all will. Lent is beautiful, but not because of it’s glitz and glamour; not because of an ease with which we perfectly perform. Lent is beautiful because it is an opportunity to cast off the sin that so easily entangles us, embrace God’s charge to love others more deeply, and, despite our inevitable failures, grow closer to our loving, forgiving, resurrected Lord. As Archbishop Caput has said, “Lent is an opportunity and a grace, not a burden…..Unless we understand our own sinfulness, unless we understand the urgency of repentance and reconciliation, the Cross makes no sense; the Resurrection makes no sense.”
This year, I used the extended time between Christmas and Ash Wednesday to prepare for our Lenten journey. Why prepare for a season of preparation, you may ask? As parents, we make weekly meal plans so we are ready to prepare nightly dinners, as students we gather the materials we need to make our study and test preparation time fruitful. Similarly, I realized through years past that our family’s spiritual journey is fuller during Lent when we have a road map to help us make the most of all forty days.
The three pillars of the Lenten season are prayer, fasting and alms giving. I have come to center our Lenten celebrations around these three themes. When I first started searching for Lenten activities to do with our children several years ago, I was amazed by the wonderful and reverent ways that many families were celebrating Lent together. Over time, we have embraced many of these traditions as our own. What follows is my plan for Lent.
Our focus on prayer this year will center around morning prayer, afternoon prayer and evening prayer together as a family. For morning prayer, I am planning to use the “Box of Blessings” scripture cards that my children received from their Godmother earlier this year. Each morning at breakfast we’ll take a scripture card from our Lenten calendar, read it and then say a prayer for our day. In the afternoon after school, we’ll draw one of the Christmas cards that we received during the holidays and pray for those family members or friends. In the evening, after dinner, we will read a Bible story aloud and say a special prayer together. In the past I have read from our Jesus Storybook Bible. This year, I bought the Jesus Calling Bible Storybook. I am planning to give it to my kids today as a Marti Gras gift. In keeping with the Jesus Tree concept (a Lenten continuation of the Advent Jesse Tree -- a tradition I admire and have tweaked for our family), the stories we read each night will be from Jesus’ life and ministry, leading to his Passion and Resurrection. During the final two weeks of Lent, I get out our Stations of the Cross Eggs, which I made last year, inspired by this at Catholic Icing. For those days, we read a Station of the Cross each night at dinner and open the corresponding egg. My kids loved doing this last year.
There are many excellent versions of Lenten reading journeys for young families. Some of my favorite Jesus Tree examples can be found at A Holy Experience, Shower of Roses and Jesse TreeTreasures.
None of my children are of official fasting age, and as a nursing mother I am exempted from the full obligation of the Lenten fast. Nonetheless, we fully intend to embrace this important part of the season. We’ll enjoy meatless Fridays, of course, probably with meals of soup and pretzels (a reminder of us to pray!). For Ash Wednesday, I am planning to make black bean soup and bread to introduce another part of our fasting that our kids always enjoy. I set out a jar of dried black bean on Ash Wednesday, next to a small Easter basket. Each time the kids do something particularly loving, selfless or helpful, they get to put a “bean in the basket.” On Easter morning, when we celebrate the way Christ makes all things new, our black beans are replaced by jelly beans. The presence of the dried bean jar on our table serves as an ever-present reminder to fast from un-loving habits and give up more of ourselves to God.
In an effort to help my children see a connection between our fasting and our giving, every Friday after dinner they will get to take a piece of food from our pantry and put it in our family food basket for the poor. I also hope to do some of our giving together as a family on Sundays. T and I will describe the work of a few charities to our children and let them choose the one they would like to support. We read about our family members doing this last year and loved their reflection.
In years past, I have eagerly undertaken the “40 bags in 40 days” challenge, in which we tried to give away 40 bags of items during Lent. Upon reflection this year, I realized that I spent so much of my free time and effort last Lent working on this, that it squeezed out time that I would have spent praying or reflecting (there is only so much free time during nap time!). This year, I am going to try to focus on prayer time first during naptime. I love the spirit of this challenge and may use the Easter season to follow through on some of my spring cleaning/giving ambitions.
Marking the Days
Aside from the three themes of our Lent, there are many ways to mark the passing of days. I realized after Christmas that our enthusiasm over Advent calendars can easily translate into Lent calendars. This year we are going to use the Lent color calendar from Catholic Icing. We are also going to do a Lamb of God craft. We’ll assemble lamb out of construction paper on Ash Wednesday, make 40 circles on it and add a cotton ball to our lambs each day. We’ll have lovely lamb decorations in time for Easter! I also admire the 40 Ways in 40 Days idea from Dixie Delights. We can add a "Way" card to each day of our Lenten calendar!
As our Lenten journey begins tomorrow, my prayer is for all of our families, that we will embrace this season with intentionality and love, looking toward our loving Savior for strength and example.