It seems like every year Lent sneaks ups on me. I know it’s coming, yet I still find myself scrambling at the last minute to find something to read and to think of something meaningful to do or not do. Not this year. This year I think I’ve got a game plan – or at least the beginnings of one. My children on the other hand, are a different story. I realized the profound shallowness of one of my chidren’s Lenten preparation when I heard her say, “I’m glad it’s almost Lent, I need to get in shape.” It dawned on me then that I wasn’t the only one in the family who needed to prepare in order to prepare for the resurrection of our Lord. So, to help my children get beyond just giving up sweets (and shedding a few lbs) I’ve compiled a list of ideas for teenagers. For those of you who have managed to raise kids who are free from the trappings of this world and whose idea of reasonable Lenten disciplines are horse hair shirts and sleeping without a blanket, I applaud you. I’d love to know the secret, but there’s probably no need for you to keep reading. But my children are a delightful mix of worldliness and would-be saints – who listen to pop music, own cell phones, and think leggings are pants. Here are some things I’m going to suggest they prayerfully consider giving up and taking on for Lent… LEARN TO PRAY BETTER Prayer is the key to holiness and to growing closer to God. It should be as important to us as oxygen. And yet it’s so easy to forget to pray or to get distracted at prayer. Having a prayer system can help. Here are some of my favorite ways to add prayer to my day or to make my prayers more meaningful.
- The ACTS prayer – This is a way to organize prayer so we don’t spend to whole time just listing the things we want from God. The ACTS prayer involves praying first Adoration, then Confession, next Thanksgiving, and finally Supplication.
- Aspirations – These are short, silent prayers offered up anytime and anyplace – Jesus, I love you. Lord, have Mercy. Jesus, I believe. Help me with my unbelief. Mother Mary, prayer for us. Any small way that we can turn our hearts and minds to the Lord throughout the day are pleasing to Him and can help us grow in holiness.
- Keeping a prayer journal – It’s easy to say, “I’m going to pray for Brittany.” Or “I’m going to be more thankful.” But as we all know, easier said than prayed. I’m going to encourage my children to write down their prayer intentions and blessings. As any seasoned prayer knows, writing down prayers not only helps us remember what to pray, but allows us to look back later and see how God as worked in our lives.
BEFRIEND THE FRIENDLESS Every time I pray the third sorrowful mystery of the rosary (the crowning with thorns), I ask Jesus to help my children and me to remember the outcast and the bullied. I realize that our Lord suffered much more than bullying, but still for the sake of His suffering, I hope that my children (and I) will make an effort to relieve the suffering of someone else being mocked, ridiculed, or forgotten. A kind word, a smile, or a “how’s it going?” might mean the world to someone who feels invisible most of the time. I hope this Lenten season my children will invite a loner to sit with them at lunch, compliment a kid who others barely notice, or is some way make a special effort at kindness. LISTEN TO CHRISTIAN MUSIC I’m not gonna lie. I’m not a huge fan of contemporary Christian music. I dislike it for the same reason I dislike most Kelly Clarkson or One Direction songs. There’s nothing wrong with them. They just aren’t my thing. But they are a darn site better than most of the vile, brainless junk on pop radio. Blogger,Matt Walsh, makes a great case that pop music isn’t only immoral, it’s also making us stupid. Lent is a great time for all of us to cleanse our hearts and minds. While I do monitor what my kids listen to, totally blocking out the world isn’t really an option. But I am asking my children to take on more Christian music this Lenten season. SERVE It’s tempting to see Lent an excellent time for the kids to kick some bad habits or to take on a few more household chores. Ya know, make a few sacrifices. They could pledge to keep their rooms clean for the entire 40 days of Lent or to quit leaving their junk in the car. After all, why not kill two birds with one religious stone. But that’s not really the point of Lent, so I refrain from asking my kids to do the things I think they ought to do for Lent. But I do encourage them to think of new and sacrificial ways to serve their family, friends, church, or community. And cleaning their own trash out of the car wouldn’t kill them. SHOW SOME GRATITUDE Again, I’m not trying to turn Lent into my personal to-do list for my kids, but I’d like to see them write more thank you notes. Thank you notes are a concrete way to express gratitude, often to someone who isn’t expecting it – a former teacher, an aging relative, an admired adult. One thank you note a week during Lent is a modest, but meaningful goal. And it has the power to touch the lives of both the sender and the receiver. PUT DOWN YOUR PHONE This one is pretty obvious. Lot’s of young people probably quit or limit social media for Lent. That’s great. I’m not asking my kids to give up all social media. And I don’t want them to give it up just to be able to say they gave up something in the Lent. I want them to make better use of their time in general. By limiting social media, they will have more time for prayer, spiritual reading, or just being quiet before God. What better way to grow closer to Him? How much should they limit? I think I’ll leave that up to each of them. My prayer is that they will make space for God. COVER YOUR MIRROR Apparently, this is an idea that is taking hold this Lenten season. Wow! I admire any young lady who can go a month without looking in the mirror. For those who aren’t quite ready to go to that extreme, I suggest looking in the mirror less – say only in the morning before leaving the house and not again the rest of the day. FREE YOURSELF FROM SELFIES Like looking too much in the mirror, the paradox of the selfies is that they are vain both pride (Hey! Look at me!) and their insecurity (Please, please, look at me). Spending 40 days not being overly concerned about what others think sounds like a great way to develop spiritually. READ GOOD BOOKS Obviously spiritual reading – the Bible, the lives of the Saints, stories from the mission field are a powerful addition to anyone’s Lenten disciplines, but I’d also like to see my children read some classic literature during Lent. I know. I know. Lent is not about getting them to do what I want them to do, but developing a taste for literature that draws our senses to what is true and beautiful is a worthwhile pursuit any time of the year. Why not make Lent a time to let God develop in us a taste for what is lovely and true in literature instead of what is ugly and common and popular. Haley who blogs at Carrots for Michaelmas suggests 10 Book to Read With Your Daughter So She Doesn’t Turn Out Like That Horrid Girl From Twilight. IF YOU CAN’T SAY ANYTHING NICE, DON’T SAY ANYTHING AT ALL Of course we should always avoid gossip and unkind talk, but sometimes we forget that this rule applies even when it’s people we don’t know. For some reason we feel totally free to make catty remarks about a stranger’s outfit or a celebrity’s weight. After all, we don’t know them and they don’t know us. What can it hurt? But poison is poison. Why put it out there? I’m not sure which, if any, of the things on this list my children will choose. The point is not for them to make themselves miserable or the “accomplish” some Lenten chores. But Lent is a time set apart. Our lives should be different during these days to remind us that because of Him our lives are different. We are different. Yes, we are called to go with Christ into the desert. But if we come out smug in our own spiritual toughness (and 5 lbs thinner), we’ve missed the point. We go into the desert to be with our Lord. We do this through prayer but also by being willing to shed those things which we hold dear but that might (or might not) keep us from loving Him fully. As a parent it is my job to guide my children to choose meaningful Lenten practices. It’s a big job. The grace’s offered to us during this time are boundless, and I don’t want my kids to miss out. Hey! I just thought of one more thing to add to my Lenten journey – praying for my children’s Lenten journey.