Doing Lent – As a Family
No two families are the same. We differ in age, size, preferences, comfort levels, spiritual experience. Yet, we are a family. Whether we work at it or not, we will experience Lent as a family – even if there are just two of us or there are large group of us. We see, and are affected by what we are doing during Lent – as individuals. If someone else in my family is clearly doing something in Lent that is making a difference in his or her life, that will affect me. And, if someone is not doing anything special during Lent, that will affect me.
So, why not talk about what we are each planning to do?
For a couple this could be simple: “Here’s what I’m going to do.”
For a family with younger children, the adults can help make it something that individual children will do and possibly something that all of us can do.
If I’m a single person or a person whose family is not in the same city, I could get together with several friends and talk about our Lent.
So, how do we make this work?
We are looking for support and accountability. With the perspective of doing Lent as family, we are looking at how each of us – and therefore all of us – might grow in our relationship with our Lord and our relationships with each other. And, who can keep us honest better than the people who know us best?
Some sample sharing, to get things going
I might say, “You know that I often struggle with impatience and a short temper. And, when I’m feeling threatened or insecure, I’ll start to raise my voice and get defensive. (Everyone nods.) Well, I’m going to try during Lent to ask for the grace to let go of that stuff and develop a new habit of thinking about your needs first, or imagine what you are struggling with first, and then turn to the Lord and say a prayer for you.”
Others: “Wow. That’s wonderful. How can we help you?”
Me: “I suppose you can pray for me. I’d really appreciate that. Beyond that, I’d love it if you saw my tightening up and you just came closer to me and put a hand on my shoulder, or give me a hug. It might be awkward at first, but I’d bet we’d get the hang of it.” “How about the rest of you?”
A Spouse: “I’ve been thinking about how I come home from work, carrying it into the house and how I’m not very good at shifting gears, so I’m thinking that I tend to push each of you away. It’s not because I don’t love you, but I didn’t transition well. I didn’t let go of work and I didn’t prepare to be at home with my family. And, I really haven’t asked myself, ‘How do I come into this house in a loving, caring way?’ So, I’m going to be asking for the grace to do that better during Lent. I’m going to ask for the grace to transition home and to be thinking about how I can ask how each of you are doing and look like I really care to know. You know I do, but I don’t always show it.”
Others: “That would be incredible! How can we help you?”
Spouse: “I certainly will find it easier to do this if I know you are praying for me, and on my side in getting better at this. Concretely, be conscious that I’ve come from a hard day. You can ask me about it, but let’s all get better at listening and asking each other how our days went. I think the key is that, if each of us is more eager to support the other than to be supported, we will all have a fabulous Lent. I love the idea of turning to Jesus and saying something. So, I might try saying, ‘Lord, let me listen to my spouse right now. Let me be sure to express my gratitude, support, my affection, and let me offer to help in some way.’ I like the hand on the shoulder or the hug. I need to do that more. And, if I’m not doing this well, when we have our check in sessions, each week, feel free to tell me. How about you kids?”
Youngest: “I want to give up being so bossy. I sometimes don’t do what I’m told and I don’t always go to bed at the right time. I’m going to work on that. But if you (looking at the next oldest sibling) would stop taking my things and deliberately bugging me, we’d all be a lot happier. And, I sure would.”
Next oldest sibling: “You’re right. I don’t know why I bug you. I just do. I’m sorry. I guess I should try to stop doing that for Lent. And, the thing about fighting to get my way. I just get really frustrated when I don’t get my way. And, the thing about not doing what I’m asked to do. There’s a lot of that. I know that’s why you guys yell at me. So how do we do this?
I might say, “Both of you are so special and so loved by us and you are being really honest. Why don’t you pray to ask the Lord to be with you each day and to help you feel more loved during Lent so you’ll feel more peaceful. As far as fighting with each other, you can try to practice thanking each other for something good you see the other do and you can try to affirm something you appreciate in the other. Lent is a good time to just practice doing things we don’t want to do, because most of the time, simple chores or going to bed on time are things that help the whole family. And, we’ll try to help you do that, and we talk it through each week in our update sessions.”
Adapting to our situation
Each of us can get where this kind of exercise would lead, in our situation, with our family. We might already be thinking of how we’d present it and try it.
The key is to believe that the Lord who inspires us to try something like this will surely bless it. We don’t have to do it perfectly. We just do the best we can. We know the rules. If each one of us stays with our own desires and needs for grace, that’ll keep us from accusations and characterizations of each other. We’re trying to build bridges.
How will this help us with Lent?
A family experience of Lent is a deeper step from each of us giving up candy or beer or whatever. It is an opportunity for each of us to grow, to be more self-sacrificing, to be more loving. And, from this opening to grace, it will be easier, as we keep talking and keep growing deeper, to help each other pray better, offer ourselves to help each other more genuinely, experience more compassion and forgiveness. It will change the way we can celebrate the Eucharist together, how we’ll celebrate the Sacrament of Reconciliation together, and how we might get to the topic of what we – as a family – might do in terms of Almsgiving, or at least offering something in solidarity and support for those who are much needier than we are.
When we get to the final days of preparation for Easter, we’ll enter into the Footwashing on Holy Thursday much more deeply. We will look up at the Cross on Good Friday more gratefully, and we will celebrate the new life of renewing our Baptism at the Vigil or at Easter Sunday more joyfully.