Lent is coming, and with it our family goal of growing closer to God through prayer, fasting and giving.
With the Lenten season approaching, I have really been thinking about what obstacles create distance between us and God, and how a focus on these three areas could help us remove those obstacles.
Here are my thoughts about our family commitments, arranged by element.
(1) prayer: We’ve had problems with family prayer time this year. The kids used to do a rhyming type of prayer at bedtime, then pray for family members at the end (i.e. God Bless Grammy and Grandpa, Aunt A, etc…). It was good in theory, but honestly, the whole prayer became a lyric the kids didn’t really understand followed by an exercise in remembering family names, and then an argument over who would say the girls’ names vs. the boys’. At some point, all meaning was lost and I threw up my hands in frustration. This Lent, I am committed to finding a format for kids bedtime prayers that works better for us. I am begging for suggestions! Particularly for a prayer that kids can really understand (or I can explain)… I also need to get better at my own, grown-up prayer life, but that is a whole ‘nother blog post.
(2) fasting: One of the barriers between our family and Christ is the way my general level of business and fatigue distracts/prevents me from spiritual time with the kids. This year, to the best of my ability, I am going to empty our minds of everything for 5-10 minutes a day except a focus on a family devotional.
Here’s my confession: Last year, I had a Lenten goal of doing one devotional a day with the kids, in hopes that 40 days would be long enough to make it a real family habit. Although I managed to purchase the devotional book I wanted to use, I absolutely failed at making it part of our daily routine. I think part of the problem was that I envisioned doing it at night, but it required enthusiasm and energy I just didn’t always have at that time of day. This year, with my husband’s support, I am going to do it during our after school story time. He will still be at work, but I think it will work better for the kids and me, and we can reinforce the devotional message by taking turns telling dad about it over dinner. This may seem like an odd form of “fasting”, but the reality is that our afternoon quiet time begins right after stories, and prioritizing a devotional will delay or cut into that quiet time on some days. The kids and I both need that time, but we need this devotional to become a part of “what we do” more. So we’re going to*try* to alter or give up whatever we need to make a family devotional happen during this Lenten season.
(3) giving: We are embracing the 40 bags in 40 days challenge. The basic idea is to move 40 bags out of your house, whether it is to a good will, a dump, or wherever else. For me, this challenge is important for three reasons:
- I feel at peace and free (and believe I will be better able to focus on the two Lenten elements above) when the house is decluttered and organized. This is just an element of my personality, I think. I don’t care if a surface is mopped, dusted, etc. but if it’s covered in stuff, I feel like I’m suffocating, and it’s hard for me to focus on anything.
- Decluttering is a great way to think about “want vs. need”. Not that we will get rid of everything that’s a want (or even close), but we will get rid of some, and it will put the “wants” we keep in the proper perspective and us in the right frame of mind: gratitude for what we have instead of stinginess about the things we need to let go of.
- This exercise is going to challenge me to truly live in the present, which requires perspective and faith. I think we currently have too many things that are about the past (some nostalgia is great, but we don’t need to hang onto everything…I am planning to take photos of some items then let them go), or things that are “stored up in barns” for the future (to cover all those “but what if this happens?”). There are plenty of people who could – in this present moment – be served by the things we are hanging onto because of a past attachment or a possible future need. And we would be well served by (a) a less cluttered environment, (b) the reduction in effort needed to care for or clean those things, and (c) the peace of mind (i.e. sane mama) that results when the house has less stuff and more empty space.
I am still working on all the details, but these are the general thoughts at this point. I also have one other Lenten goal that is less about the family and more about me (at least at this point), but it’s private…I will likely share at some point, but need to think more about what it means.
Finally, I want to share some of the ideas that my friend Queen B posted last year that I find absolutely inspirational. I’m not sure if we’ll get to these this year or not, but they are on my mind for future years, and definitely worth passing along in case anyone else is looking for ideas.
(1) prayer: having the kids add a link to a prayer chain each day during Lent
(2) fasting: in addition to abstaining from meat on Fridays, the kids would select one item from the pantry to be placed in a box that would go to a food pantry
(3) giving: a jar of dried beans placed next to a small empty easter basket, and each time a family member does a good deed or something especially nice, they move a bean into the basket. She then explained to the kids that “on Easter morning, when Jesus Is Risen, the dried beans will be replaced with jellybeans, representing the new creation we become through Christ: the old is gone and the new has come! (2 Cor 5:17)”. I must also say that Queen B has one of the best posts about love and justice I have ever read, and she credits reflecting on this jellybean activity with providing those insights. Inspirational, especially since I can imagine this activity is somewhat difficult to manage with kids.
I’ll end by reminding you that we are struggling with regards to kids’ bedtime prayers, and would love suggestions via e-mail or comments. Is there a childhood prayer that is particularly meaningful for you?
Here’s wishing you a meaningful Lenten season that brings you and yours closer to God.