Lent is tricky.
Sometimes it sneaks up on you real quick, early in February, when somehow there is still Christmas candy that you are ready to throw your body over to protect from anyone taking away from you. You hardly have put the decorations away and here is this penitential season staring you in the face, daring you to come up with something, anything, to give up, quick, before you wake up and it’s Holy Week.
Sometimes Lent takes its time and you wonder when it’s going to start already. That’s this year. I’ve noticed that sermons hereabouts have been referencing it for weeks, which sort of annoys me a little. (I would not make it in the Byzantine tradition, obviously.)
I’d like to be left alone with my desserts as long as possible without a lot of looming pre-game admonitions, thank you very much.
I’m quite sure that you are on top of it, especially given all this extra time to prepare, and have your penances and spiritual growth activities all lined up.
But if not — if perchance even this year’s long build-up has left you still uncertain what you ought to do to take advantage of the coming
slog opportunity — maybe I can offer a suggestion or two.
First: The Overarching Principle:
Live your Lent, don’t worry about watching yourself experience it, or for that matter, looking for signs that your children are experiencing it.
You are and they are — if you live it.
Only later, looking back, will you realize what the experience was. That’s because experience is primarily the result of the memory of the event, which, of course, you must live before you can remember.
I wrote about living Lent in this post, so I will let you brush up on that. I am starting a board on Pinterest for simple ways to give your children work to do this Lent so they can be thinking about it too, although I caution against activity for its own sake. Choose only work that is beautiful and promotes contemplation and virtuous habits.* You can follow my “icon corner” board on Pinterest. I hope this will hold you until the book comes out [edited to say: this is the book!] — but this Lent may be a good time to think about a prayer table for your family to bring the Liturgical Year into the home. The book will explain how to do it…
But not long ago, as I was thinking of what would be good for young mothers to give up, a cloud parted, a heavenly beam of light shone upon me, and God spoke.
Not really, but I did have two random thoughts for you of what you might want to try this Lent to get good habits that will stand you in good stead.
1. Don’t take your phone to bed with you.
I know that the phone has an alarm clock in it. But I am going to suggest that you buy an actual alarm clock and leave the phone (or tablet) in the kitchen.
Here’s the thing. You need to collect your thoughts when you go to bed. You need to wind down mentally, and what’s really lovely is if you can have your last thought be one of God — even a simple one like imagining that you are in the little home in Bethlehem when Jesus has been put to bed. I know from experience on the road, where I do use my phone as an alarm, that it’s just hard to stop checking social media last thing at night. It’s hard to detach.
First thing in the morning, a good habit is to be thankful for waking up! Greet the Lord! However, I know that it’s just very tempting to check one’s email or Facebook rather than jump out of bed and get the morning routine going. So as much as it’s just for convenience to have it there by the bed, it’s … not the same thing. As not having it there.
And then there is waking up at night with the baby.
I get it. You wake up to nurse the baby and it’s something to do. It doesn’t wake your husband up the way turning on a light to read a book does. You can check in on Twitter to see if your friends who are nursing their babies are on there, or what the latest outrage is.
However, it’s a little inconsistent to fret that you have no time during the day to just think, and then equip yourself with your little distraction machine at night. Right?
And baby can’t settle down because of a basic physical reality, which is that as you are reading everyone’s maddening posts, your breathing is getting shallow and quick and your heart rate is rising. When you sleepily nurse the baby with no mental stimulation added to the mix, your breaths are rhythmic and deep, you yourself begin to doze off, and baby gets the idea that sleep is where it’s at. Apart from the deeper benefits of the bonding that takes place in those first months when it’s just you, baby, and the silent darkness, there is a practical reason not to have that light shining in his face and your mind racing with all the trivial matters that overwhelm you during the day too.
I think one reason God made little infants to wake up in the middle of the night is so that their moms can have some contemplative time.
Don’t get me wrong — I’m not writing off the connections that the device affords. I’m just saying, maybe Lent is a good time to put this limit on things: that at night, you will be fasting from them.
2. The second thing I’m going to suggest is to pick the chore that seems like the numero uno example of drudgery in your life — the thing that you avoid like heck and make excuses about — and be determined to get good at it.
Is it getting to the bottom of your own bedroom?
Is it something else, known only to you?
Better than sacrifices, better than burnt offerings, will be, in the sight of the Lord, your cheerful determination to tackle a duty of yours and master it. You have about 20 hours to figure it out. See if there is something.
I know, these aren’t immensely impressive Lenten practices. Where is the hard bed in the cold stone room? Where is the bread and water? Sackcloth? Ashes? But maybe one of these little steps will result in a fruitful Lent for you. See what you think.
*Edited to add that I have uploaded a Stations of the Cross work for children. The idea is to let them think about the station (you can read the account of the Passion before doing this work) and make their own drawing — anything from a cross to a symbol to a complete picture is fine. The verse and response for them to print out and learn is of course “V/ We adore thee O Christ and we bless thee: R/ For by thy holy cross thou hast redeemed the world.” By the time they write that out three times they will know it!
There is also a Lenten Rule (if you print this out on two sides of the paper it will make a booklet that keeps the resolutions private).
Tomorrow we will announce the winners of the Narnia book giveaways, so this is your last chance to enter! Leave a comment by clicking over to this post.