For most kids, Lent is that time when someone gives up chocolate, such that there is nary a trace of even cocoa powder to be found in the home. But if we make the process of purification a family event, the fruits of such a collaborative effort will be a broader and deeper experience of what it means to submit one’s self to the will of God for all. Preparing for Easter is what Lent is designed to do. The feast of the Resurrected Christ should be anticipated. It isn’t just the day we can finally go back to eating what we wish or playing the computer, boy-am-I-glad-that’s-over-and-we-don’t-have-to-eat-fish day. Kids will “get” how the rediscovery of chocolate or television or whatever they have offered up, is a joy they would otherwise have been unable to experience if they undergo the 40 days of sacrifice.
Celebrate Fat Tuesday with a feast including a favorite dish of everyone, and read Exodus and the story of Jesus spending 40 days in the desert at the dinner table. At the end of the meal, have a notepad and pen and begin talking in turn about possible Lenten resolutions. These promises should be written down. It is at this point, that parents play a vital role, directing the conversation, asking questions like how a child will make a sacrifice and what that sacrifice will mean and why the child picked this or that offering up. Getting kids to think about the associative power of their sacrifice, (how this will affect me and others and deepen our faith in Christ) and not merely the linear meaning (no cartoons on the weekdays for 40 days) is the objective.
Ash Wednesday, parents should avail themselves of confession, weekly adoration and if possible, an additional weekly mass. At the very least, families should use Lent to begin rediscovering the scriptures. All children of age to do so should also be afforded the opportunity to receive the sacrament of reconciliation.
Write every Lenten resolution down and post it prominently.
Post-it notes on the refrigerator work well. It’s easy to forget in the early days of Lent. Half way through a fast food meal one can suddenly remember, “Oh no! I gave up soda.” or when one’s had a busy day, reaching for the chocolate or the remote or a glass of wine can happen out of habit. Come up with strategies to make those initial days easier. Tell the family that they are going to be allies to each other in this six week experience. Keep the Lenten resolution visible all Lent long.
Talk about the sacrifices daily. Reflect on Lent at the dinner table or in carpool. Use the daily scripture or a regular prayer to help set the mood and encourage spiritual reflection while on this family journey. Keep Lent at the forefront of everyone’s minds with family journal of daily reflections and responses. Ask your children how things are going, ask your spouse. Include those moments when things aren’t so easy or someone trips up.
There are going to be problems and moments when Lent feels too long for everyone.
If you pair a positive resolution with the negative ones, like “pray more” coupled with “abstaining from fast foods,” there is at least a course of action when temptation gets rough. Use that craving to go through the drive thru or order the pizza as a call to pray. Know when and where you and your family have weak moments in the day and have strategies to address those times. Regular reminders to everyone of why we offer these things up or why we must be joyful and smiling even if we’d rather pretend that for today, what we promised does not matter, helps steel resolve.
Be supportive of each other’s proposed resolutions.
By not buying the cookies that one kid gave up, Mom and Dad validate the child’s sacrifice, silently saying “We support you. We want you to succeed.” Adults should also provide positive alternatives to any negative sacrifices that a child has made. When a kid who surrendered video games wants to play Nintendo, offer to play catch or cards or a board game and be ready to deliver on that opportunity.
Have the kids provide the same reinforcement for the adults. When the nutella in the closet is calling, tell the children and let them suggest the apple or carrots that should substitute for the chocolate. Take the opportunity to laugh at one ’s self when the healthy alternative is presented. After all, we don’t need the chocolate no matter how much we think we do. We just want it. Eve and Adam did not need the apple, they had the entire garden to feast from, they just wanted it. Sublimation of the physical will seems like it ought to be easy and yet as all of us know, it isn’t.
The week of Easter is what makes us Catholic. The Eucharist, the promise of eternal life, the coming to understand something of the depth of God’s love through the mystery of the Cross and the sheer delight of the empty tomb, all come from those precious days. The forty days will make all of us better able to receive and accept the good news, “Christ is Risen.”
Copyright 2009 Sherry Antonetti