This Is the Best Way to Live Lent with Your Family
Lent is upon us again. I always feel like it hits me when I least expect it and when I am most unprepared to welcome the increased mortifications and penances necessary to experience the liturgical season. What’s more is that, when you’re living with children of a variety of ages and developmental stages (or special needs, as is the case in my home), it’s sometimes a challenge to discover practical ways to spiritually prepare ourselves as a family unit.
Below are some tips on how to bring the season of Lent to life in your own family. But before delving more deeply into each, please know that spiritual growth is a process. It takes time. The spiritual fruits of your efforts might not be evident immediately; they might take years. The point is not to have a perfect family, but a family that is flawed and broken (like the rest of us), yet striving for holiness each day. That is the key to fidelity of faith. That is what God wants in us – progress, not perfection.
Make a sacrifice jar.
Sometimes coming up with something new to “give up,” or sacrifice, during Lent can be arduous or even boring. We tend to stick with what we know, yet we inherently understand that God may be inviting us to step outside of what is familiar and comfortable and lean into Him. Perhaps God wants to stretch you this Lent. If so, this is a perfect place to take the stress off of coming up with some form of mortification or sacrifice that ends up being a drudgery.
We have a small glass jar in our home. Shortly before Lent, our family brainstorms different options of what we might give up, ranging from treats, TV/movies, tablet time, internet use, coffee, wine, hot showers, etc. We write each idea on a separate slip of paper and put them into a “grown-up” jar and “kid” jar, based on what sacrifice is age-appropriate.
Each day at breakfast, we each draw a slip of paper. That is the sacrifice we make for the day. This is a great family activity, because the kids take some ownership over what is offered as suggestions and ideas, which makes them more apt to participate. Plus, since it’s a new sacrifice each day, there’s a bit of excitement so that the offering doesn’t become stale or stagnant.
Choose a charity to donate your time or treasure.
My oldest daughter, Felicity, loves saving her change to give to the poor. Granted, she doesn’t end up with a grand total that leaves us gasping in shock, but remember the parable of the widow who gave all she had – her two coins. It’s that spirit with which to remember this particular Lenten option.
Younger children might only have a few quarters they earn from chores or the tooth fairy. Older kids might have an allowance or even earn money from paid jobs. Regardless, the key here is to have a common donation jar or bowl (much like the CRS Rice Bowl concept), where family members are encouraged to place their cash throughout Lent.
We like to decide, as a family ahead of time, what charity will receive our total sum. Sometimes it’s our parish’s St. Vincent de Paul Society, sometimes a local women’s shelter, other times a national pro-life organization or charity that feeds the poor. The point is that the family decides together what they feel called to do to help, and then they start pitching in what they earn throughout the liturgical season.
If it applies, you can also decide to donate your time to a specific charity by volunteering as a family during Lent. Maybe you can spare a few hours to help collect and distribute canned goods at your parish’s food pantry. Or maybe you can trek to a nearby soup kitchen or homeless shelter to help serve meals once or twice. Pray about it. Talk about it. Then your family will really commit to it together.
Pray lenten devotionals together each day as a family.
My favorite daily activity with the family evolved as a result of a Lenten resolution we made a few years ago when our girls were burgeoning into a deeper understanding of the Faith. Though still very young, they were enthusiastic and eager to learn new prayers and gather together each evening as a family.
There is something very centering, very grounding to make family prayer a daily practice. It keeps the familial focus on God, facilitates new conversations, and helps everyone in the home reflect on their day – what was good, what could be improved, what they’re sorry for, etc.
Start small if this is a new idea for your family. We started by praying a decade of the Rosary each night before bedtime. It took all of maybe eight minutes. Light a candle. Place a statue, icon, or framed prayer card as a focal point, and then vocalize your petitions (if you prefer). We do this, and we encourage our girls to do this every night. It is truly amazing to see what they care about and want to bring to God.
Maybe you will select a Lenten reading or Scripture verse to use for family prayer. Maybe the Divine Mercy chaplet works for your family. Or maybe you will offer petitions and conclude with a simple trio of Our Father, Hail Mary, Glory Be. There is no right or wrong way to do this. The point is to begin somewhere. Find something that you feel called to pray together, and stick with it. Make it realistic, like five or ten minutes to start, and you might discover – as we have, three years later – that you will gradually increase that time to twenty or thirty minutes together.
Pick a neighbor, family member, or friend to “adopt” this lent.
We all can think of at least one person (probably more) who are in need of something – a visit, a phone call, a handwritten card or note, maybe even a meal or house cleaning. Discuss as a family at the beginning of Lent some people you know who might be homebound, lonely, sick or convalescing, disabled, or just moved or had a baby. Pray about each person and then select one to “adopt” this Lent.
First, make contact with the person and inquire about his or her life. What do they need right now? What’s going on in their life, or what is their schedule like? Let them know you’d like to spend some time with them.
The point is to build a relationship. Pope Francis frequently talks about the concept of “accompaniment.” What this essentially means is that we need to get back to carving specific time out of our increasingly busy lives in order to meet people where they are, listen to them, be with them, care about what matters to them. That’s the call of every Christian, and it will be a powerful witness to your children if you can do it as a family.
Again, be realistic and reasonable. Do what you feel you are able to do as a family. Talk to the person you want to “adopt” about your idea and see if there’s a particular weekend you might be able to come over and help clean. Maybe they need a ride to the grocery or a doctor’s appointment. A special card or craft made by the little ones, along with some homemade cookies or bread, is a simple way to bring some cheer, too.
Everything we do during Lent is intended to draw us nearer to each other as members of the Body of Christ. In turn, we draw closer to God. Try not to make Lent about rituals that come and go but something you can naturally make a permanent fixture in your family – like prayer or helping out a person in need. Be intentional. Make your time matter. Then Lent won’t seem like a dreaded season that comes and goes, leaving us right back where we were before. Instead, you will be changed, and so will your family.