Lenten Habits at home

Discovering your own Lenten Journey

Many of you are wondering what are we going to do for Lent? What are we going to give up? As well as many other thoughts and questions. It can leave us feeling like we are spinning in circles trying to land on something profound. Lent can be an overwhelming one to prepare for especially with children. There are so many suggestions so many resources. So much information. Perhaps too much. It can make us distracted. It leaves us feeling lost. This is not how Lent should be. The burden of feeling lost is not the way.

In February I find myself thinking of great ideas with thoughts of great inspiration. That euphoria after Epiphany can be such a motivator. Then….life happens…..and…..all that motivation falls away because I am trying to get through the natural chaos that occurs in a household. Yes, distractions are many! Hours in the day are few. Before I know it there is Ash Wednesday in my lap reminding me that I did get distracted and did forget to complete all those great ideas I found. No worries. Move forward. Take on the challenge as it arrives.

There is no correct way to do Lent. Lent in our home is never the same. Each year it is different. What is the same are the basic requirements all Catholics should adhere to during Lent. The 3 Pillars are: Fasting, Prayer, Almsgiving. With Lent it is best to keep it simple. Focus. Choose one thing to do and do it with focus. Just as we cannot be productive when we are spread too thin this too can happen in our attempt to have a fruitful Lent.

For younger families seeing the families with older children appear so peaceful and set on their Lenten journey it can seem as if you are missing the secret. There is no secret only experience. It is called Wisdom. It has been through trial and error that families with a plan have the outward appearance of a peaceful, spiritually, fruitful Lent. Sharing ideas online is a great way to learn new traditions. While the goal of going online is to gain inspiration often what happens is it makes families feel inadequate. The first step is to put down the social media and stop letting those visuals form your journey.

Prayer with fasting is good. Almsgiving with righteousness is better than wealth with wickedness. – Tobit 12:8

In our own journey we have had many missteps. Many not quite failures. I will not categorize those times as failures because we were trying and doing something. It may be best to call those times not a good fit. We have tried many different things with our children. Some resonated more with them than others. Often as it goes one kid likes it the others do not which makes for a very complicated experience. We’ve been there many times. Those times can be very disappointing. It is easy to give up and decide to leave the children out of Lenten participation “until they are older” and focus on you, the adults. That is not a wise path because “until they are older” comes quickly and brings with it a new set of unexpected challenges. We say get back in there and press on because it will be worth it in the end.

For us we came to the conclusion that to create new Catholic traditions we needed to seek them out by trial and error. Some years we may do more things because timing is right and our motivations are high. Other years, such as ones with small babies, we have learned to keep it very minimal. That is what is so wonderful about our spiritual journey. It is ok to adjust as needed. If you take on too much it is fine to abandon something. Feeling overwhelmed is not the point of Lent. Suffering through stress is not the point. It should not be stressful. You should not become depressed. If anxiety and depression sets in during your attempts at having a Lenten journey then you need to step back and look at what is going. Again, social media is NOT the place for comparison. There, being social media, is the place where advertising a product of *happy perfect families* is a business for many eager to make you feel bad about yourself. These people are not intentionally trying to make you feel bad about yourself, rather, it is the platform that is doing it to you. (Feeling bad about your situation is one way that we are tricked into buying in to a lifestyle through marketing products and or services these influencers are selling.) These online voids make it easy to have a tunnel vision experience. You see in 2D that moment they are sharing. You are not privy to the reality that is there being hidden by filters and song. {* There is no such thing as happy perfect families. That is a fantasy that has been sold to us thanks to the TV generation which has now transferred those ideals on to the technology generation. It is the same concept different tech. Don’t think all your family is or can be is a perfect picture with a great theme song.}

By this point you may be asking yourself :

  • “Then, what?”
  • “What am I supposed to do now?”
  • “How do I find good sources?”
  • “Does it have to be this hard?”

We have been given the formula: Fasting, Prayer, Almsgiving. You are not required to do anything picture worthy or blog post worthy or any other kind of worthy to share with the world. You need to find the God worthy option. I have the book Around the Year with the von Trapp Family by Maria von Trapp and it has been really helpful in reminding me to be focused on the various seasons in the Liturgical Year. Maria von Trapp describes the modern viewpoint of Lent as “just a gloomy time full of ‘must nots’. ” and that we have forgotten the purpose of Lent as being a time meant for “keeping away from all the noisy outside entertainment” to find time to imitate Jesus. She words it quite well when she writes: “Therefore, we should let Holy Mother Church take us by the hand and lead us – not each soul alone, but the whole family as a group – away from the noise of the world into a forty-day retreat.”

This is exactly the method of approaching Lent.

The whole family going on a retreat together. In her book Maria von Trapp suggests something quite wonderful to do: Lenten reading. Retreat worthy right in your hands! Her suggestion is to choose 3 books to read* that fulfill these three goals:

  • Something for the mind: This is seeking a book that is research driven. To learn more about the Church. She suggests as examples choosing a book on dogma, or about the history of the Church or some encyclicals of the Pope.
  • Something for the soul: Here she suggests finding spiritual reading written by saints.
  • Something for the heart: She recommends reading biographies of people who share your struggles and mindset. As she described “a book showing a human being in the round, with all his shortcomings that had to be overcome by faithful cooperation with grace.”

In the simple we can find growth. This year if you are feeling overwhelmed with formulating a Lenten plan maybe take some advice from the von Trapp Family and take a family retreat to focus on reading. There are many ways this can be done in a family setting. This approach can be done together by reading excerpts each evening. A great start is by learning the Church history to your children. Find a Saint to “walk” with you for Lent, one that is new to you, to learn about their life and ask to pray with you through the season. How ever it comes about this can be a very fruitful way to grow during Lent. A little singing wouldn’t hurt either! I couldn’t mention the von Trapp Family and not suggest music. Singing or listening to songs for Lent both are wonderful options to help bring a more peaceful Lenten season.

An option to try for singing: Open, O Hard and Sinful Heart. An option to try for listening: Attende Domine – Gregorian Chant for Lent

*PS: It is okay if you don’t finish all these books! Don’t beat yourself up. Some of your choices may be very large books but are very worth reading even if it is only a chapter or two. If you find a great book that is quite long then choose 1-3 chapters to tackle. Remember it is the steps we take that keep our momentum going. Even the smallest toddler can hike a mountain, it just takes a few more steps to do to get there.

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