People often don’t look forward to Lent. Childhood memories of giving up candy or sitting through weekly Stations of the Cross come immediately to mind. Words like “sacrifice,” “discipline,” and “self-denial” are often used in ways that suggest that Lent is something to be endured rather than a time of grace and spiritual growth.
Have you ever thought of Lent as a yearly second chance? Each year the Church gives us six weeks to take a long, loving look at our lives to see if our values and priorities are in line with God’s desires for us. Since most of us find that we’ve wandered from God’s path, Lent becomes that second chance, or do-over, to “return to God with our whole heart.”
We’re highlighting Lenten practices and memories of people who have shared their stories with us. Their experiences range from pious and traditional to creative and out-of-the-ordinary, but all of them represent attempts to make the season of Lent a meaningful time of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving for themselves, their loved ones, and their communities. Invite family members to share their thoughts, hopes, and desires for Lent. Decide to support one another in whatever you choose to do. As you journey through this annual second chance, remember that each step brings you closer to the welcoming arms of our loving God.
From the breakfast table to the car seat, from writing to drawing, from giving something up to doing something more . . . Let the wisdom and spirit of these stories inspire you in your own Lenten journey.
Around the breakfast table
One of my best Lenten practices was begun when my children were in elementary school and I was a working parent. It seemed as though we were struggling to find time to eat dinner as a family and this was greatly disturbing me. I decided that if we were unable to hold the dinner hour sacred due to work schedules and after school activities, I would instead hold the breakfast hour sacred. I made sure to get up each morning during Lent just a little earlier so that I could not only provide breakfast for my family but actually sit together, pray our meal prayer and begin each day on a happy note. It began in Lent and didn’t end until my children went off to college many years later. I learned that Lenten habits could carry far off into the future with my family. The impact was dramatic in that each day was started with a prayer and positive attitudes. Breakfast became and remains one of our favorite rituals of the day.
Drawing a prayer
I took time every day to draw in a sketchbook. I called the time my “God Time.” I wanted to make each day of Lent special by taking time to reflect on God and my relationship to God.
My Lenten jar
I always have nice things that I’d like to do, but never seem to make time to get to: write a letter to a friend, visit a lonely person, call a distant friend. At the beginning of Lent, I write down 40 plus tasks, one per little slip of paper, and toss them in a jar. Then, each morning of Lent, I pull one out and do the task written there. It teaches me that I like surprise and variety in my Lenten practices. For me, this is a simple way to concentrate on the disciplines of giving alms and doing good for others.
Mark G., KS
Dialing into God
Instead of listening to music or talk radio in my car, I decided to take that time for prayer and to listen to God. At first, it was a difficult transition; the silence was deafening. But soon, I began to enjoy the quiet time. I prayed for people who I knew needed my prayers. I prayed for my family and myself. I also thanked God for my many blessings. I found that I became much more calm and peaceful during this time. This reflective time grounded and centered me to do my best.
A note a day
Each day of Lent, through prayer, a name surfaces of a person who has had an impact on my life in some way. I then take the time to write a handwritten note to that person. I have been amazed at the people that have surfaced: from my 3rd grade teacher; to a cousin; to a priest; to a high school student who had written me a note after a presentation I gave at her school. I send the notes without the expectation of a response. Yet, I have received several emails and notes stating how much it meant to the person. Life is too short —we see that with Jesus—but, we have the opportunity to share our thoughts with those who have made an impact (some don’t even know it, until they receive the note). This embodies the idea of Lent: prayer—praying for a specific person each day; fasting—fasting from negative thoughts; and almsgiving—sending a note with affirmations is a great gift to give.
How do you live out in your own life the Lenten practices of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving?
What have you learned about yourself, your faith, and God through your own Lenten practices?
Whether we have decided to do something new this Lent, or have continued our own traditions, our Lenten practices transform us and imprint on us memories that carry deep meaning. Let these stories invite you to look into your life and discover your own powerful and meaningful Lenten moments.
I had been away from the Church for many years. I did not have an especially strong upbringing in the Church, so it was easy to fall away as a young adult. When my mother died when I was 31, I was very angry at God. After over a year of being angry at God, I felt a really strong need to go to Mass. I ignored that feeling for awhile but found myself in church one Ash Wednesday. There, in the quiet of the Church before the service started, I felt called home. All throughout that Lent, every homily felt like it was spoken directly to me. God let me know, in the death and resurrection of his son, that he was big enough to handle my anger; patient enough to wait for me to heal from it; and that he never stopped loving me. To this day, Lent reminds me of my homecoming!
Lori A., WA
Mom knew best
Back in the days when kids could walk to church safely early in the morning, I would go to 6:30 Mass at the parish. I had to walk about four or five blocks when in 6th grade, I used to stop for a friend across the street and we went together. One day, in the middle of Lent, a bitter cold morning, I stopped for Pat and found she wasn’t going, I went back home. My surprised Mother asked what I was doing home. “Pat is not going,” I replied. I’ll never forget the look on my Mother’s face as she replied, “Who are you going to Mass for, God or Pat?” Needless to say, I went out to Mass. That question, and lesson, have stuck with me for the rest of my life.
The beauty of simplicity
During Good Friday services we were visiting my son’s college campus and went to the Newman Center for the reading of the Passion. Afterwards there was an adoration area set up in what is usually the seating area for the offices. Extremely simple with just a few candles and a cross. It was beautiful! People quietly moved in and out. Students, teachers, families. A very sacred space.
A forgiving family
We had a family practice of weekly prayer during Lent that we called Friday Forgiveness. After the evening meal, my husband would read a story of forgiveness from the Bible. I would offer a brief reflection and then we would engage in Friday Forgiveness. Each person would ask every family member for their forgiveness, and the other person would respond by forgiving them. Each person forgave and asked for forgiveness. No particular faults were mentioned, only a general petition for forgiveness. The experience was never routine. It was a time to experience healing and peace returning to our home.
A sacramental desert moment
When I lived in Las Vegas, Nevada, I used to go hiking in the desert. One Ash Wednesday, there was a sudden downpour. The redrocks were washed and intense in color; a vibrant rainbow appeared; and water pooled in a worn basin in the sandstone. Without thinking, I reached into that water and blessed myself—it was so holy and sacred. The water disappeared into the sandstone and the rainbow into the heavens, but both remain in my heart.
Rosemary, New York
The power of symbolic actions
My favorite memory and the one that still resounds today, happened when I was in 6th grade during the Holy Thursday liturgy. Just watching the altar as it was stripped bare and realizing that Jesus really was dead had a profound effect on me.
Can you recall a life-giving Lenten experience? What made it special?
What would you like to do this Lent to make it more meaningful for you and your family?
While helping our children enter into Lent each year and encouraging them in meaningful Lenten practices, their simplicity, fervor, and authenticity can teach us more than the finest sermon.
Seeing Jesus in others
A lesson I learned from my children happened one Holy Thursday when we stopped after Mass to pray at the altar of repose. My daughter, who was four years old, watched our fellow parishioners kneel to pray and look reverently on the Blessed Sacrament. As we left she asked, “Why do they kneel down and look like that?” I answered that it was Jesus and they were kneeling because they loved him. She innocently replied, “But if Jesus is in all of us, why don’t they look at each other that way?” Her words have followed me all these years as I sometimes struggle to see the face of Jesus in others.
I’m being watched
I learned that I model for my children how one should act during Lent. Children listen more with their eyes than they do with their ears!
No sad sacks allowed
My children taught me what it means to be a joyful follower of Jesus.
I learned from my children that preparation and anticipation are as important as the actual event.
My children taught me that it’s OK to slip up, but don’t stop trying.
Seeing is believing
My children have taught me to visually put into practice my beliefs about Lent. This way I can demonstrate to them the joy of altering our lifestyle as we draw closer to Christ during Lent.
What message do I want to offer others through what I say and do this Lent?
What have my children taught me about entering into the season of Lent?