"Lord, be on my mind,
Lord, be on my lips,
Lord be on my heart.
~Our meal time prayer addition for Lent
Friends, the Holy Season of Lent has arrived. In the days leading up to Ash Wednesday, I was frantically taking down Valentine decorations to make space for this season. I printed off our Lent Calendars from Catholic Icing, hung our Lent pocket banner and set our our dried beans and Easter basket. The time has come.
Each year between the Christmas and Lenten seasons, I enjoy planning our Lenten activities and aides. This is a wonderful seasons to walk through personally and as a family. The plethora of Lenten activities on the web is certainly a blessing, but in years past I have been over ambitious and over zealous to the point of being overwhelmed and overwhelming to others. Now, I try to evaluate each of the Lenten pillars and what we can do to embrace each one as individuals and as a family: prayer, fasting, and giving (alms). If I focus on one or two activities to emphasize each pillar, I find that we all tend to do better without being distracted from the spirit of the season. This year, here are some of our aides and activities, each intended to draw us closer to the heart of Jesus.
Marking the Days
A take on an Advent Calendar, the Lenten Path from Catholic Icing has become a Lenten staple in our house. My kids look forward to receiving their "Lent Calendar" on Ash Wednesday. It helps them visualize the season and look forward to Jesus' miracle at Easter. The calendar also helps them follow along with days of abstinence (the fish symbol on Fridays), and helps them learn that Sundays are not included in the 40 days of Lent. Lacy at Catholic Icing has done such nice job with this teaching tool.
During Advent and Lent, I try to teach the kids a short, new prayer by adding it at the end of our mealtime grace. I try to pick a prayer that is symbolic of the season. This year, we are saying the following prayer together, while making the sign of the cross over our mind, mouth and heart: Lord, be on my mind. Lord, be on my lips. Lord, be on my heart. Amen. If the gesturing seems familiar when you try it, that is because it mirrors the Mass liturgy at the point of the gospel reading. I hope my kids will learn the prayer and remember it each time they make the sign of the cross on their forehead, lips and heart before the Gospel reading.
Our main prayer discipline will be our long-time tradition of reading the New Testament stories from our Jesus Storybook Bible. We have others, but this is my favorite kids' Bible version. G-Bear and E-Bear will soon be ready for more formal scripture readings, but they, along with Buddy Bear and J-Bear, love the pictures and the simple language of this interpretation. Buddy Bear also knows many of the stories by heart now, because T found an audio book version a few weeks ago, which plays continuously in our car these days. It is beautiful to watch them internalize the stories, reference them, and ask questions.
In addition to our Lenten readings, this year I added Scripture cards to our Lenten table, in hopes that we might be inspired to remember and live out a little of God's Word. All 26 of the ABC Scripture Cards (distributed by Magnolia Lane in Birmingham, AL) are beautiful and include a separate Bible verse for each letter. The verses are perfect for Lent, for example, the letter D spoke to all of us:
Fasting is truly countercultural in our society and so poorly understood, so I relish the annual opportunity Lent affords me to witness and role model Christian fasting for my children. While we won't eat meat as a family on Fridays during Lent, I don't expect my kids to notice that very much. What is more, since children under 14 are exempted from the dietary fasts of Lent, I am saving focused conversations about food and drink for later. For now, we are talking more about how making small sacrifices for ourselves can be a special way of growing closer to Jesus and clear away things that we think are more important than God. The biggest way I am trying to teach them this is with the help of our Bean Basket:
This well-known tradition has become another one of our Lenten staples. Whenever the kids do something kind, selfless or loving during Lent, they get to put a black bean in the Easter basket. At Easter, when Jesus rises from the dead and "makes all things new," the black beans in our basket are changed to jelly beans that we get to enjoy for the whole Easter season. With the basket, I am trying to teach my kids that "fasting" from bad behavior choices can help us clear the way for behavior that God wants for our lives. The delayed gratification that comes from going without candy for now and looking forward to it after Lent also helps to make the Easter celebration that much sweeter for all of us.
In the past we have had a Friday Food basket that I let the kids put food items into for our parish March Food Drive. This year, we are focusing our attention as a family on an event that I am coordinating for our church, the Lenten Family Service Morning. This event will provide service projects for families of all ages to complete together. I am asking the kids to help me gather the supplies and we'll be talking about the way our service is a form of giving to those who are less fortunate.
This year, we are once again using the "Lent Pockets" that I made last year. This string of 46 felt pockets reminds us of the pillars of Lent and helps us pass the days as a red wooden cross makes its way along the banner.
In each pocket, we have a daily Lenten discipline to serve as our "giving" for the day. If the kids are noticed doing their daily Lenten giving, they get to put TWO beans in the basket at the same time. Huge incentive, let me tell you. I write "what we're doing for Lent" each day on the chalk board in the kitchen so that we all remember. The kids are so eager each morning to find out "what is in the Lent pocket!"
I am coming to appreciate more and more each year the joy that it is to walk the Lenten journey as a family. In the end, this is a season to, above all, learn aware et amari: to love and be loved. Fear not, for He loves us in all our faults, and in His love there is hope for us all. Easter is coming....