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.