How beautiful it is to give up this life for the life!
~ St. JoseMaria Escriva
Let's just go ahead and admit it - nobody likes Lent. Just say the word Lent out loud and you'll find that it is almost always followed by a sigh of discomfort. Kind of like the word exercise to those who hate to sweat or babysit to those who find children annoying.
For me, Lent always conjurs up flashbacks of my childhood. No sweets, no TV, no anything fun. Just church, lots of church, ashes on the forehead, and weird fish dishes, and quiet and gloom. All we could do is countdown to Easter Sunday. (My parents were great teachers and always set a very pious example for me. I, however, am just a very, very, very slow learner.)
Despite all of the negativity attached to Lent, it really does have a deep and beautiful purpose. It's not just a season in the church's liturgical calendar that you have to "get through" in order to have chocolate again. The Christian isn't forced to do any of these things - giving up meat, fasting, mortifications, ashes on the forehead. The church doesn't hold a hammer over our head and say, "Do it, or else." Participating in the sacrificial preparations for Easter are intended to be freeing, not binding.
I am deeply humbled by the truth that Christ willingly died for us, for our sins. He gave himself up to be crucified. The power of perfect sacrifice is ever stronger than that which He could have exuded if he had chosen to weild His power over everyone and every situation. In the same way, God doesn't control us, he has given each of us a free will, and it is through our willingness to unite our sacrifices to Christ, no matter how big or small, that we participate in His life, death and resurrection.
In my mind, there is but one purposes to the Lenten season:
Unity with Christ.
This season of contemplation, examination and preparation wakes up the soul, and invigorates our fervor as Christians to walk with Christ and to desire Heaven more deeply.
Experiencing Lent as a family can be challenging. We are all busy with activities, school, sports, meetings and appointments. But, coming together for any amount of time each day can bear beautiful fruit in your family. Need a few ideas? Here are some that we share within our family, as well as a few that I have found from other resources:
For the Family:1. A couple of years ago, I found this recipe for a crown of thorns made out of dough. Toothpicks are placed in the dough to represent the thorns. When the children do an act of sacrifice or a good deed, they can take out one toothpick. We place a glass jar in the center of the wreath, and for every toothpick we take out, it is replaced with a jewel which is put in the jar. The jewels represent the jewels in the crown of our King, Jesus. On Easter, the children can construct a crown and glue the jewels on (I actually like the ones from craft stores that have the sticky backs).
2. Choose a story to read aloud together. This doesn't necessarily have to be a Catholic/Christian book. Perhaps it could be one where the characters demonstrate heroic virtue by way of sacrifice. Our older kids (3rd grade and up) have really enjoyed Redwall by Brian Jacques. There are also many short stories in the Children's Book of Virtues. We like to keep a book basket in our living area during special seasons in the church. This is very handy if you are giving up television/video games during Lent.
3. Consider adopting a child that you can support as a family with financial resources, prayers and letters. Sometimes being mindful of the needs and sufferings of others can put our own struggles into perspective. We have adopted two boys, Patrick and Juan Diego, through CFCA. You can find more information here.
4. Pray together. I know it seems so simple, but often the greatest sacrifice that we can make on a weekly basis is the sacrifice of our time. Praying with your children, even for a short amount of time each day, is unifying for the family. Maybe you will learn a new prayer, or perhaps choose a bible verse that you would like to memorize together.
5. Pick a service project to do together. Consider shoveling snow for a neighbor, volunteering at the local food bank or soup kitchen, visiting the elderly, or delivering a meal to someone homebound. Let the kids help decide what you will do. If you are giving up Saturday morning cartoons or a day of shopping at the mall for Lent, it helps to put something sacrificial in it's place, or else you might find yourself looking for another source of comfort or entertainment to replace whatever it is that you gave up.
6. Get to know Christ through the Word. For families on the go, an easy way to do this is to listen to an audio version of the daily readings. You can find them here (just click on audio version and select the corresponding date).
7. The Stations of the Cross is a traditional prayer that Catholics often pray together on Fridays at their local parish. If you find it difficult to make the trip to church, you can still pray this beautiful prayer as a family at home. I found this amazing idea from Joyfilled Family. They use candles with a printable picture to mark each station. We are definitely doing this one!
For the Children:1. If you have little ones in the home, crafts can sometimes be a perfect way to make something as difficult as the mystery of Christ's suffering, death and resurrection simpler for them to take part in. I love the website Catholic Icing. There are oodles of great ideas there!
2. We are all, by our natures, comfort seeking creatures. That part of our nature is in some cases necessary for survival. So, encouraging children to embrace the idea of sacrificial giving isn't easy. I decided this year to offer the boys a way of seeing their sacrifices "bloom" into something beautiful. Because, as Christians, we believe that each person's personal sacrifices have merit, and when offered to Christ, He will give our sacrifices life.
To begin the activity, I created this quote:
These tiny seeds lie deep asleep. But, when planted in the soil of sacrifice, they will awake and bloom as resurrected flowers of love!
To encourage the little ones with this project, it might be helpful to create a list of sacrifices that they can choose from. They can even help you make the list. Some of ours include:
- Picking up toys for a sibling.
- Making bed without being asked.
- Give up playing with a toy or game so that another may use it.
- Clean up room without being asked.
- Serve another family member at supper time.
- Pray for a family member.
3. Have each child select a quiet space that he/she can go to every day for twenty minutes in the home to have quiet time with Our Lord. Older ones may read the bible, recite their favorite prayers, journal or simply be still and listen. For little ones (3-6 years old) they might just read or look at story books about Jesus or their Children's Bible, or color pictures for Jesus. Need some story ideas? Check out this list. Another resource is Holy Heroes. These are fantastic audio stories of saints. A coloring book can be purchased to accompany the stories. Our kids love these, and often listen to them in the afternoon during my personal prayer time.
4. If your kids are giving up something such as toys and video games for Lent, make a sacrifice box. Also, help them to think beyond just giving something up. Sometimes adding something to our daily routine can also be sacrificial. For example, picking up their room without being asked, saying a prayer each day for someone in the family, doing a chore for someone else, etc. Also, giving up something, doesn't just have to mean something physical. How about giving up a bad habit such a whining, complaining, name calling, a negative attitude, not responding promptly to parents etc.?
5. We all love to countdown to exciting and joyful events. Make a calendar for your children and hang it on the fridge. I like this one from Catholic Icing:
I hope this gives you a few ideas. I am heading to Switzerland to visit my sister Sara this week. When I get back, I'll post a few of my favorite meatless recipes for the Fridays of Lent. With a house full of men, cooking without meat is a challenge - but these recipes pass the test!