Uh oh! It’s Lent.
As a mother, I have often thought about what I want to pass on to my children in the way of character, and virtue. At the heart of all that I dream and hope for them is the hope that they will have a deep and guiding faith in God.
Interestingly, studies have shown that when faith is perceived as the cause of a warm and loving home, children are far more likely to own their faith into their adulthood. Conversely, if a child experiences faith as just a set of rules to follow, or as something that causes strife in the home, that child is more likely to leave the faith in adulthood.
I've always wanted to create a warm, loving, nurturing home where both my family and God can dwell. This information just put a finer point on the importance and meaningfulness of that. So, as a mom I really do try to intentionally create a peaceful, loving atmosphere and warm memories with my family. The connections we make through this don’t just serve my family, they also make me feel empowered as a parent, and inspire me to go deeper and wider with the people I love, and with God. Together we catch a bit of His creative spirit and it inspires us to more.
Most seasons, either natural or liturgical, bring opportunities to do this in various ways.
Christmas can be easy to engage my family in. The whole atmosphere is inviting: the lights, carols, yummy food, presents, and the coming of the baby Jesus. Our family has intentionally created so many traditions to gather around - from finding our tree, to decorating gingerbread, to special meals, to participating in Christmas Mass- it is always a time we look forward to sharing together.
Easter is about resurrection, salvation and new life. Again such a celebratory setting! Entering the church on Easter Sunday is a feast for the senses as well as the soul. Our spirits lift at the amazing scent of Easter flowers, with their brilliant colors, filling the church. We rejoice at the sound of Easter song, filled with alleluias and promise of resurrection. We've always loved sharing Easter as a family at church. At home we continue the celebration by creating a lovely meal together with favorite foods that have become traditions as well. At each person's place at the table is a small chocolate bunny. The decor of our home gets a lift with Easter flowers, and light, colorful touches placed here and there, reminding us that the long darkness is over and the light has come.
But Lent...now that's a season that has sometimes given me pause. While I can personally benefit from the time set aside to grow spiritually, it does not present itself as an easily shareable family season. The pain and suffering of Christ, and the call for us to sacrifice and repent can be hard to share with children. It is easy to present the Lenten images in a way that can be frightening and off putting to children of any age. I have also witnessed parents go to extremes in imposing Lenten sacrifices on children to the point where they cause resentment, and bitterness between them. It can seem challenging to create warm family memories during Lent, and yet it is a season so pivotal to my family's faith that I cannot let it be neglected.
In order to make such a challenging season more inviting and memorable for my family I do several things:
Every year I take the season to God and ask Him to guide me in helping to shape Lent into a time that will draw us closer to Him and to each other.
I evaluate the ages, and emotional, and spiritual stages of each of my children, and consider to what degree they can embrace the Lenten journey this year. (The church herself requires and suggests very different levels of participation depending on age, health, etc. so of course we work within that.)
I consider how I can create an environment that gently reminds us and helps us enter into the season. So I might use pussy-willow branches, or pre-blooming forsythia branches in places where I would usually put flowers. Giving us a reminder of the journey from death to life. (Waiting until Easter to bring in Hyacinth, Tulips, and Lilies is one of my tiny Lenten sacrifices because it's so hard for me to pass them by when I see them for sale in the grocery store on a cold and dreary day. I have to steal myself to wait out the Lenten journey until Easter. A small reflection of what I must do spiritually.) I've also taken to creating different centerpieces that sit on our table and draw our thoughts together as we share a meal.
I pray about what books or movies about this story would be appropriate for us as a family this year. This of course changes with age, and sometimes means allowing older children to stay up a little later than younger siblings to watch a depiction of Christ’s sacrifice that's only appropriate as they've gained the ability to process it with us.
I look for engaging activities that we can do as a family that help us enter together into the sacrificial nature of the season.
And I always discuss my ideas with my family, listen to theirs, and make sure everyone is willing to participate. If one of my children is reluctant in any way, we will discuss their concerns and modify our ideas so that everyone can commit to our Lenten journey together.
Lent, while it requires sacrifice, is a journey of love and I want to do all I can to help each member of my family experience it as such and remember it that way always.