Lord, help me grow in the virtue of prudence, which enables me to choose and practice all other virtues. Help me set, and even raise the bar so that I may always choose to do what's best and most pleasing to you. Amen (From Stay Connected Journals for Catholic Women: Becoming Holy, One Virtue at a Time by Sara Estabrooks)
I find myself having the same conversation with myself every year when Lent begins. It goes something like this:
"I'm just too busy this year to put a lot of effort into Lent."
"But, I really feel Lent is important and want my family to get something out of it."
"Oh, well, there's always next year."
Can you relate?
With my oldest child almost 30 I've had this conversation many, many times. I've come to learn that next year will not be any different than this year. There will always be something that needs repaired, someone who's in a sport or play, someone who is sick, or some other pressing tasks that need my attention.
Now is the time that God is giving us. Now is when he has given us Lent.
I've learned to give up grandiose plans, and settle for a few very simple, but effective ways to help my family observe Lent. These even may seem like "too much," for some of you, but trust me--if I can manage to pull some of this stuff together, so can you!
1) Have those “Lent” conversations with your family. This doesn’t have to be any super planned out meeting, just a simple conversation next time everyone is sitting down at dinner. Have everyone share what they are doing for Lent this year. If it is something private, certainly don’t make them share. If they don’t have one yet, encourage them to come up with one. This is a great way to take the spiritual temperature of some of your kids, but don’t be fooled by those with grandiose penances. Sometimes it’s the smaller, more thoughtful sacrifices or changes that can make a difference.
The other conversation to have is “What can we do as a family for Lent this year?” Let your family dominate this conversation and come with something that speaks to your family this year. Do you have too much screen time? Do you need more involvement with your parish? Do you need more family time? Do you just need a constant reminder of Jesus? For all of these questions, you could probably come up with a Lenten penance or activity that could meet that need. For example, if you need more family time, perhaps you could initiate Sunday family time where every Sunday afternoon, you have to do something together. Just don’t let your Lenten resolution be too involved or complicated.
What’s so ingenious about this activity is that it stems from the real needs and concerns of your whole family. Plus by planning it together, there will be that accountability.
So this is easy. So far so good.
2) Eat fish or go vegetarian on Fridays. This is what the church expects of us, so it’s good to reinforce this and let this practice become one of the signatures of Lent in your home. This may take a little planning on your part, but you’ve got to feed the family anyways, so why not make this a little more intentional. The kids will come to expect particular foods at this time of the year and this will help set this time apart from the rest of the year. Yay! This is what we want. It’s not ordinary time, it’s Lent. We’re sacrificing and getting ready to celebrate the death and resurrection of our Savior. “Vegetarian Lasagne?” It must me Lent. “Salmon Patties?” It must be Lent. “Pizza with just cheese?” It must be Lent.
3) Mark the days. And finally find a simple calendar or poster to mark the days of Lent. I find if I print one out and put it on our refrigerator, it serves as a daily reminder for me and the whole family. This is simple to do, but this visual reminder helps us to see that we are on this journey of Lent. Some calendars suggest simple prayers and activities for the day. If this feel like a checklist/one-more-thing-to-do, find one that doesn’t do this. You can just use a regular calendar, but like color the days in purple, for example. I use this one from Catholic Family Celebrations that you can just color the path, but still reminds us to slow down and observe Lent. It’s black and white and just prints out on 2 pages on your printer. No sign-ups to get it. It’s completely free and safe to download.
So here’s three simple, very doable ways, that will help your family observe Lent this year without having to add stuff to your calendar.
Lent is a mindset. It’s a time of penance and renewal. This take place in your heart and mind. Keeping things simple and having reminders of Lent help create this. And when you find yourself in a “Lenten” mindset, you may find yourself saying: “I’ve got a free evening, I’m going to run to the adoration chapel for 30 minutes.” or “I’ve always wanted to read that book on prayer, I think I’ll start that tonight instead of watching Hulu.” This transformation starts from simple prayers and quieting the activities that the time of Lent can remind us to do.
But it's so hard. Pausing is something Martha's have the worse trouble with. As a Martha, I'm trying to keep this idea of "pause" foremost in my thoughts and actions--I mean lack of actions-- throughout Lent, and maybe it will carry over after. We all just need to slow down, allow a little more space in our schedules.
Here are some thoughts on Pause from the Pope's recent Ash Wednesday homily. I thought they were so beautiful to reflect upon that I wanted to share them with you in case you didn't get a chance to see them.
Pause a little, leave behind the unrest and commotion that fill the soul with bitter feelings which never get us anywhere.
Pause from this compulsion to a fast-paced life that scatters, divides and ultimately destroys time with family, with friends, with children, with grandparents, and time as a gift… time with God.
Pause for a little while, refrain from the need to show off and be seen by all, to continually appear on the “noticeboard” that makes us forget the value of intimacy and recollection.
Pause for a little while, refrain from haughty looks, from fleeting and pejorative comments that arise from forgetting tenderness, compassion and reverence for the encounter with others, particularly those who are vulnerable, hurt and even immersed in sin and error.
Pause for a little while, refrain from the urge to want to control everything, know everything, destroy everything; this comes from overlooking gratitude for the gift of life and all the good we receive.
Pause for a little while, refrain from the deafening noise that weakens and confuses our hearing, that makes us forget the fruitful and creative power of silence.
Pause for a little while, refrain from the attitude which promotes sterile and unproductive thoughts that arise from isolation and self-pity, and that cause us to forget going out to encounter others to share their burdens and suffering.
Pause for a little while, refrain from the emptiness of everything that is instantaneous, momentary and fleeting, that deprives us of our roots, our ties, of the value of continuity and the awareness of our ongoing journey.
Pause in order to look and contemplate!
For a "Pause for Lent" printout poster for your family to countdown the days until Easter, just go here.
Maybe having a better, consistent prayer time was a New Year's Resolution for you (again), or maybe, like me, you’ve always struggled with maintaining a fruitful prayer time.
From the time I was “saved” in 8th grade at a Youth Group retreat on the beach in 1980 to this very day in 2018, I’ve struggled to have a daily prayer time. Yes, that’s a long time. And yes, it’s been a struggle for the entire time. It’s never been easy. It’s not that I haven’t wanted this quiet, peaceful time of prayer to start my day, it’s just that, I’ve always been in too much of a hurry to sit still and do it.
It kills me to sit idle for too long. The dishes are calling. My Facebook has a notification. My email box is full. I need to attend to a waking child. Etc. Etc.
And yes, I know that praying is not being idle. However, I sometimes forget that this seemingly unproductive time is actually my most productive and important time of the day.
My memory is so short. . .
Good thing I don’t rely on memory alone, and still have enough sense and discipline to carry out this most important moment of my day. Still, there are those times that I want to cut my prayer time short or cut it out all together, and for those very frequent times, I have found that these 4 bits of advice help me to keep that prayer time going:
I hope this has been helpful for you. I know for me in just writing this, I feel a new energy and encouragement to consistently give this time in my day to God. Thank you for helping me to see this! Let’s keep each other in prayer tomorrow morning.
It’s time for Advent. I love this time of year, because for our family, it really is a time that we continually look for Christ. Our whole month is scheduled with this purpose in mind.(If only the rest of our year could be that focused.)Sure, our culture is bombarding us with a materialistic message, but I have found that this just illustrates man’s deeper desire for more.It’s like the Augustine message that “our hearts are restless until they rest in Christ. ”Our culture desperately needs Christ and their hearts are searching. When our family sees this society’s desire trying to be fulfilled with more and more “things,” or the “perfect holiday meal” or the “beautifully decorated house,” it can remind us of our own need for Christ. After all, haven’t we all tried (and still do try) to fulfill our needs in other ways besides Christ? And we know that these never fulfill. A great shopping trip, a new car, a busy schedule, or even a party with friends satisfies for a while, but we soon are found wanting again.The Society that we live in is the same way. Christmas is a time when perhaps people feel this desire more. So don’t let the Culture or Society’s desperate search to fulfill this need be a distraction to you. We can let it remind us of our own desire and our need for Christ to fulfill them. Remember: There but for the grace of God go I.
Keeping this in mind, however, I do try to minimize the hectic-holiday buying, partying, and decorating spree; and to have a more focused and meaningful Advent. I want to remember where my desire is fulfilled.I know that my family and I can get caught up in that holiday frenzy and lose everything that Advent can bring us.Here are some steps that our family takes every year during this time to achieve that:
1) Follow the Church and use Advent as a preparation and penitential time. It is not the birthday party; it is the preparation for the birthday party. Follow the guidelines and examples of the church.The color for the season is purple—which means a time of repentance. It is a little like Lent.The church doesn’t ask us to fast and abstain during this time like we do in Lent, but we are to keep in mind that we are preparing for the beautiful celebration of Christ’s coming.We should prepare our hearts.
Just like we don’t play the games or eat cake before the birthday party, so we should show some restraint during Advent. As much as I am able, I try to postpone as many Christmas parties as I can during this time period.(Nearly impossible when it depends on others, but I control the ones I can control.) If we are going to see “Christmas Lights”, we wait until during the 12 days of Christmas, (and they are not nearly as busy then!) We watch the Christmas specials, like Rudolph and Frosty then. We eat our Christmas cookies and other great Christmas foods then. Have you noticed when your church puts out their Christmas decorations? Can you dare wait until a few days before Christmas to put out yours? Our new neighbors thought we were Jewish one year the weeks before Christmas because we had no Yuletide décor in our yard. In our Baptist -Southern neighborhood, I know they all just assume that the Kisers are just too busy to get those decorations out and procrastinate every year until just a few days before.
We control what we can control and try to use all the other Christmas activities as a means to prepare us for Christ’s coming, like if the grandparents have to show up before Christmas to deliver their gifts—what a blessing to have such generous grandparents who love us!
2) Keep it simple! Sweetheart! You know it is the time of year when we have more activities, more programs, and more on our plate, despite our plans to try to reduce these Christmas activities. This means that we just need to try to simplify in other ways. Although I have a full calendar of Advent activities, I still simplify my schedule by postponing dentist appointments, making easier meals, suggesting that weekly or monthly meetings skip meeting in December, and foregoing any big time chores this month (like clean the carpet, clean out the attic, etc.).
3) Make a schedule, but know that everything is optional and interchangeable!. For me, if I don’t schedule it, I won’t do it. I find that if I schedule something simple everyday, it really helps our family to remember that it is Advent. The types of activities that I plan help us to remember what Advent is all about.Use the church calendar and your family Advent traditions in your schedule and add some new or other activities around these. I write these activities out on little pieces of paper and these make up our Advent Calendar. Everyday, we flip over a picture and pull out one of the papers from the corresponding pocket. (I use the same ones every year with a little bit of switching around and adding a couple of new ones.)
4) Plan a family confession night. And I don’t mean that we are all going to confess to each other who left the sink on in the upstairs bathroom or who left the library book out on the patio to be rained upon.I mean find a place in your schedule when you all can go to confession together.Not everyone needs to see the priest for confession. That should be up to everyone’s own discretion.But everyone needs to go to at least pray in the church. (If they don’t need confession, perhaps they should pray for us who do.) Afterwards, plan something fun together—like going out for pizza.
5) Tradition! If you want these events to happen more easily, then begin to make these happen year after year. Tradition cuts out the planning step all together. And if you store the plans and “props” of the tradition, that makes it even easier.Think about if you had never put up a Christmas tree, and you just started your first one this year.You’d put time into planning when, where, who and how. Then, you’d have to go find all the “props” to do it. You think it takes awhile now when you do it, but compare that to if you’ve never done it before. When you see my schedule it looks full, but luckily for me, I’ve done most of these activities before. I know where my books are that I read on certain days. I know where my Advent wreath is. I know how to make a piñata. I know to save the straw from my fall decorations for my manger. I have my Jesse tree and ornaments ready to hang. Some big advice: Don’t try to do it all your first year.Take your time. Add one thing new every year. Remember, your children need your presence, not your presents. Activities, crafts, baked goods, etc. can never substitute for your full presence to your children.I know I sometimes get so caught in the planning and carrying the activities out, that I forget the whole purpose behind them. Don’t let that happen to you. They are a means to a relationship with your child, not a substitute for a relationship.
6) Use an Advent bin.It took me a few years of scrambling through all of the Christmas decorations and through the house looking for what I needed for that day, before trying to simply store all my the Advent stuff together in one bin.This is extremely helpful if you don’t get your Christmas decorations out at the beginning of Advent.Shortly after Thanksgiving when I collect all of my fall decorations to store, I simply pull out my Advent bin, and I am ready to go.No more digging.
7) Get all of your Christmas shopping done before Advent begins.I know that this sounds crazy, but it will free you to concentrate on your other Advent activities.It will keep you out of the stores and malls.It will keep you off of the internet searching and searching for the best deals.It is probably too late for this Advent, but keep this in mind for the next year.Sure there are some great deals on Black Thursday and Friday, but I’ve found that I can get just as great of deals when I am keeping my eyes open in September and October.Spend your Thanksgiving weekend walking in the woods and playing football with the kids, not in the hectic mall.Throw all those shopping fliers away.Remember our children need presence, not presents.And if you don’t find them enough presents for under the tree, well, they probably are better off without them.
8) Final Suggestion: Only buy very thoughtful presents and only buy when necessary. I have a section in my Smart Martha’s Guide book about having fewer toys. I have many reasons spelled out there for reducing the amount of toys our kids have. Even adults need fewer toys. Do what you can to help reduce the gift buying, especially among adults.Be bold and direct if you have to, “We are trying to save up a little money this year, Sis.Let’s not buy each other Christmas presents.”I’m not saying we should be stingy.If you’ve got the means then spread the cash to your postman or babysitter or children’s teachers, but don’t just buy stuff to spread it around.Make cookies and other homemade goodies. We’ve all got too much stuff. Shopping before Advent helps us to take the time to be more thoughtful with our gifts as well as not getting caught up in the shopping frenzy that happens when we are in stores and looking through ads and buying gifts that no one really needs.
I hope you have found this advice helpful, and that it will be the beginning of a meaningful Advent and an even more beautiful Christmas.
For 5 Days only (November 18-22) You can get the Advent Catholic Mom Bundle!