Sunday, February 10, 2013

15 Ways to Experience a More Meaningful Lent

"I’m participating in the Keeping LOVE in LENT Blog Link-Up 2013, hosted by
Raising (& Teaching) Little SaintsTruly Rich Mom and Arma Dei: Equipping Catholic Families. We'll be sharing different ways, tips, stories and real-life experiences that will help us focus on Lenten sacrifices, prayer and good deeds, and how to carry them out with LOVE instead of a GRUMBLE. Please scroll down to the end of the post to see the list of link-up entries.”
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How beautiful it is to give up this life for the life!
~ St. JoseMaria Escriva 

Let's just go ahead and admit it - nobody likes Lent. Just say the word Lent out loud and you'll find that it is almost always followed by a sigh of discomfort.  Kind of like the word exercise to those who hate to sweat or babysit to those who find children annoying. 

For me, Lent always conjures up flashbacks of my childhood.  No sweets, no TV, no anything fun.  Just church, lots of church, ashes on the forehead, and weird fish dishes, and quiet and gloom. All my siblings and I could do is countdown to Easter Sunday. (My parents were great teachers and always set a very pious example for me. I was, most likely, focused on other, less important things as a child.)

Despite all of the negativity attached to Lent, it really does have a deep and beautiful purpose. It's not just a season in the church's liturgical calendar that you have to "get through" in order to have chocolate again. The Christian isn't forced to do any of these things - giving up meat, fasting, mortifications, ashes on the forehead.  The church doesn't hold a hammer over our head and say, "Do it, or else." Participating in the sacrificial preparations for Easter are intended to be freeing, not binding. 
I am deeply humbled by the truth that Christ willingly died for us, for our sins.  He gave himself up to be crucified.  The power of perfect sacrifice is ever stronger than that which He could have exuded if he had chosen to wield His power over everyone and every situation.  In the same way, God doesn't control us, he has given each of us a free will, and it is through our willingness to unite our sacrifices to Christ, no matter how big or small, that we participate in His life, death and resurrection.
In my mind, there is but one purposes to the Lenten season:
Unity with Christ.

This season of contemplation, examination and preparation wakes up the soul, and invigorates our fervor as Christians to walk with Christ and to desire Heaven more deeply. 
Experiencing Lent as a family can be challenging.  We are all busy with activities, school, sports, meetings and appointments.  But, coming together for any amount of time each day can bear beautiful fruit in your family.
Need a few ideas?  Here is our list of favorites:
1.  A couple of years ago, I found this idea for a crown of thorns made out of salt dough.  Toothpicks are placed in the dough to represent the thorns.  When the children do an act of sacrifice or a good deed, they can take out one toothpick and place it in the "thorn" jar that is kept in the center of the crown.  
2. The crown of thorns is a painful and sometimes difficult image (especially for little ones) to grasp.  Here is an extended lesson to the crown of thorns project that will help children see that Christ's crown of suffering was bore out of a deep love that led Him to an eternal crown, a glorified crown, a heavenly crown: For every toothpick they remove from the thorny crown, allow them to place a jewel into the "jewel" jar.  Then, on Easter, the children can use the jewels to decorate a beautiful crown for Jesus.  You can find a king's crown printable template here.  Print it out on quality card stock and cut them out ahead of time so that they are ready for the children to decorate on Easter.
3. Choose a story to read aloud together.  This doesn't necessarily have to be a Catholic/Christian book.  Perhaps it could be one where the characters demonstrate heroic virtue by way of sacrifice. Our older kids (3rd grade and up) have really enjoyed Redwall by Brian Jacques.  There are also many short stories in the Children's Book of Virtues.  We like to keep a book basket in our living area during special seasons in the church.  This is very handy if you are giving up television/video games during Lent.
4.  Consider adopting a child that you can support as a family with financial resources, prayers and letters. Sometimes being mindful of the needs and sufferings of others can put our own struggles into perspective.  We have adopted two boys, Patrick and Juan Diego, through CFCA. You can find more information here.

5.  Pray together.  I know it seems so simple, but often the greatest sacrifice that we can make on a weekly basis is the sacrifice of our time.  Praying with your children, even for a short amount of time each day, is unifying for the family.  Maybe you will learn a new prayer, or perhaps choose a bible verse that you would like to memorize together.  

6.  Pick a service project to do together.  Consider shoveling snow for a neighbor, volunteering at the local food bank or soup kitchen, visiting the elderly, or delivering a meal to someone home-bound.  Let the kids help decide what you will do.  If you are giving up Saturday morning cartoons or a day of shopping at the mall for Lent, it helps to put something sacrificial in it's place, or else you might find yourself looking for another source of comfort or entertainment to replace whatever it is that you gave up. 
7. To  build upon the idea of growing in the virtue of generosity, now is a great time to introduce your children to the beauty of almsgiving, an act of religious virtue where one offers help in some way to the poor, above and beyond their weekly tithe.

8.  Get to know Christ through the Word.  For families on the go, an easy way to do this is to listen to an audio version of the daily readings. You can find them here (just click on audio version and select the corresponding date). 
9.  The Stations of the Cross is a traditional form of prayer that Catholics often pray together on Fridays at their local parish.  If you find it difficult to make the trip to church, you can still pray this beautiful prayer as a family at home.  I found this amazing idea from Joyfilled Family. They use candles with a printable picture to mark each station. Our family truly looks forward to lighting the candles and praying these beautiful prayers during Lent.
10.  If you have little ones in the home, crafts can sometimes be a perfect way to make something as difficult as the mystery of Christ's suffering, death and resurrection simpler for them to take part in.  I love the website Catholic Icing.  There are oodles of great ideas there! 

11.  We are all, by our natures, comfort seeking creatures. That part of our nature is in some cases necessary for survival.  So, encouraging children to embrace the idea of sacrificial giving isn't easy.  I decided this year to offer the boys a way of seeing their sacrifices "bloom" into something beautiful.  Because, as Christians, we believe that each person's personal sacrifices have merit, and when offered to Christ, He will give our sacrifices life. 
To begin the activity, I created this quote: 
These tiny seeds lie deep asleep.  But, when planted in the soil of sacrifice, they will awake and bloom as resurrected flowers of love! 

Below the quote, I scattered a few illustrated seeds that the boys can cut out.  Each time during the week that a child offers some small sacrifice, he/she can cut out a seed and put it in their specific pot. About half-way through Lent, have the child count his/her seeds and replace them with real seeds.  Those seeds will then be planted in their pot and cared for throughout the remainder of Lent. By Easter, the plants should be sprouted and can then be enjoyed indoors or transplanted outside when the weather warms up.  We chose Morning Glories, because they are symbolic of the Resurrection. To encourage the little ones with this project, it might be helpful to create a list of sacrifices that they can choose from.  They can even help you make the list.  Some of ours include:
- Picking up toys for a sibling.
- Making bed without being asked.
- Give up playing with a toy or game so that another may use it.
- Clean up room without being asked.
- Serve another family member at supper time.
- Pray for a family member.
12.  Have each child select a quiet space that he/she can go to every day for twenty minutes in the home to have quiet time with Our Lord.  Older ones may read the bible, recite their favorite prayers, journal or simply be still and listen. For little ones (3-6 years old) they might just read or look at story books about Jesus or their Children's Bible, or color pictures for Jesus.  Need some story ideas? Check out this list.  Another resource is Holy Heroes.  These are fantastic audio stories of saints.  A coloring book can be purchased to accompany the stories.  Our kids love these, and often listen to them in the afternoon during my personal prayer time.
13. If your kids are giving up something such as toys and video games for Lent, make a sacrifice box. Also, help them to think beyond just giving something up.  Sometimes adding a task or offering to their daily routine can also be sacrificial. For example, picking up their room without being asked, saying a prayer each day for someone in the family, doing a chore for someone else, etc.  Also, giving up something, doesn't just have to mean something physical.  How about giving up a bad habit such a whining, complaining, name calling, a negative attitude, not responding promptly to parents etc.? 

14.  We all love to countdown to exciting and joyful events.  Make a calendar for your children and hang it on the fridge.  I like this one from Catholic Icing:
15.  Finally, since I haven't yet mentioned anything about giving up candy, pop, or other special treats for Lent, I will say that these types of fasting are always a good idea. May I suggest doing it together as a family (our family gives up sweets)? And, if the children want to partake in more of their own "giving up" sacrifices, do not discourage them!  To help the kids get through those long 40 days of no sweets or treats, remind them that the church does not discourage celebrating feasts of distinction during Lent, such as St. Joseph's feast day (March 19),  or St. Patrick's feast day (March 17).  It is appropriate to enjoy special foods on these days, and your kiddos will enjoy having those feasts to look forward to, and perhaps even help plan and prepare for!

How does your family celebrate Lent? Do you have any special traditions or memories from your childhood? Please share in the comments!!
Check out the Lent reflections participating in the Keep LOVE in LENT Blog Link-Up 2013! We'll be sharing different ways, tips, stories and real-life experiences that will help us focus on Lenten sacrifices, prayer and good deeds, and how to carry them out with LOVE instead of a GRUMBLE.  Discover new Catholic blogs to follow!


  1. Love this! Great ideas. As someone relatively new to the church married to a cradle Catholic there are so many things I am not very familiar with yet. It's still hard for me to remember no meat on Friday's sometimes. Looking forward to checking out Catholic Icing, also! Thanks for sharing!

  2. I am so not crafty, and this puts me to shame :)

    I may have to bookmark this post, though, for future reference! Thanks for sharing!

  3. Hey! New follower! Love these ideas for Lent! Found you through Pinterest :) Excited to keep up with you! XO

    1. Thank you for the follow! I am looking forward to stopping by and visiting your blog! Have a blessed Lent!

  4. It has taken a LOT for me to change my mindset on Lent. I love all your ideas, especially as my little one grows. I try and DO something for Lent, rather than take it away. That is more challenging for me, and thus more of a sacrifice. You have a new follower, lady!

    1. Thank you for stopping by, Megan, and for leaving your blog address as well - I can't wait to check it out!

  5. Great collection of ideas.Time to get pinning these! I love love love the stations of the cross at home with candles. It's simple. Sometimes it's hard to get to the stations with kids. AND kids love candles. Letting children light them keeps kids involved in the prayer. Thanks for sharing these!

    1. Thank you, Stephanie! We live 30 minutes from our parish, so praying the Stations at home is practical for us. The kids love this method, it really helps them engage in the prayers!

  6. Thanks for your links especially about sponsoring a child. It is something I have often thought about. I have to investigate that website further. Thanks - Darlene

    1. Hi Darlene! Yes, sponsoring a child has been such a wonderful gift for our family. I would encourage you to consider it!

  7. thanks for sharing this family friendly lenten list.

    call me crazy but lent is my favorite liturgical season of the year.

    1. You are not crazy at all!! I always "feel" like it's time for a little purification in my life every time Lent comes around. The church in her wisdom is wise to guide us in this way with the liturgical schedule.

  8. I'm loving all the craft projects I'm seeing for the kids. Definitely adding to my list for next year. Can't wait to read more.

  9. Stopping by as part of the "Keep Love in Lent" link-up...

    You have so many great ideas here! I especially like number 11 with the seeds. That would appeal to my son and daughter, who are really into growing things. And we love morning glories -- they grow profusely on our fence! I also like number 12 -- having children find a special place in your home or yard when they can go every day to spend some quiet time with Jesus. I'm going to mull over that one a bit and see if I can find a comfy corner to put down some pillows a blanket and our basket of Lenten books. Thank you for the inspiration!

    Blessings to you during this Lenten season.


  10. I was once told that the reason we give things up for Lent is to rid our lives of the distractions that are blocking our view of Christ. Thank you for your beautiful reflection! I got a lot out of it.

    Growing up, my family did many of the projects you've listed in your post. It was fun to see the pictures - they certainly brought back a boat load of memories. Thank you! God bless you!

  11. (I totally love Lent, but I think that may be my temperament.)

    What an awesome list! I am definitely going to implement some ideas with my kiddos, especially #12 with my 4.5 year old. She needs some quiet time with the Lord - and so do I!!

    Praying for you!

  12. Hi, Susan -- wow, I love all of the ideas you've included here! Thanks for sharing. But I admit that I'm totally distracted from Lent now by your running. I just downloaded a "from couch to 5K" app on my phone and am about to (gulp) start running. Or at least start getting off the couch. Here goes! Any tips you want to pass along to a freaked out newbie? (Love the design of your blog, BTW)

  13. I love all your ideas, Susan! :) We're doing some of them, or at least we PLANNED to, haha! :) Let's pray for each other during this Lent and beyond! :) Thanks for joining the link-up! God bless always!

  14. Nice list! I love the candle idea for the Stations of the Cross, my kids always love praying around candles! Our tradition of silence for the three hours Christ hung on the cross on Good Friday is one my kids look forward to, even reflecting back on the day well into Ordinary Time. We do not do it perfectly, (there have been a few frantically whispered arguments) but it still transform that day into one like no other.

  15. Hi Susan, you have a great resource list for Lent. I'm with Lena, I happen to like this liturgical season! Can't say that I did many years ago, but as a mother, I have a new found love for it.

    I think an important distinction for us to fully participate in Lent willingly is that it doesn't require a feeling to be attached to it. I think it's an act of the will that will lead to a fruitful season. It's similar to forgiving and loving. If we always waited "to feel like" or "be in the mood" to forgive or love, then we do it much less than we're called to do! Sacrificial giving is tough for adults too. I like your seed activity and especially your crown of thorns/jeweled crown one. I think it will demonstrate that sacrifice, prayer, an act of charity, or good deed is pleasing to Jesus.

    May God bless you during your Lenten Journey and may Our Blessed Mother, wrap your family in her loving mantle!

  16. I wanted to try the thorn of crowns this year, but just have not gotten it together to do so. Now I know why -- b/c I needed to wait to read your idea about the jewels. it will make it so much easier for my compassionate five-year-old. Thank you for the idea.

    1. I love that you have sons, that you run, and that your name is Susan. I run too, mostly in the summer. We are swimmers in this house and that makes Lent interesting, because of the 1000's of cals we nosh after practice. I like the crown of thorns idea. I just might try it. Much love and good beer.

  17. These are great ides. I really need to get into this whole craft thing and stop thinking it'll be too hard to do with 3 kids. I think that the benefits far outweigh the mess and maybe a headache of getting things done. I've seen the crown of thorns before and have always thought of doing it. Maybe I'll be brave and try it for the rest of Lent? And I like the extension of the crown jewels. Very good for little ones indeed!

  18. By the way....your short bio on the sidebar is too funny. 5 ornery boys?! laundry that breeds while you sleep? Good heavens! I can't even imagine what a day is like for you! LOL

  19. My boys like Redwall too, and we have done Lord of the Rings as a read aloud, plenty of sacrifice and suffering for Lent in there!

  20. I really like the idea of reading a book together as a lenten project; I have tried this before, but tend to lose steam, so perhaps we need the lenten season to keep us going. I also like the seed project; we will try that.

  21. I love your list of 15 things to do for Lent! My family made the crown of thorns one year (and I even blogged about it). I painted it bright colors and almost used the pic for the Keep LOVE in LENT until one blogger said she couldn't join because the picture was so ugly! =) I think she's right...I like yours much better!

    I like your sacrifice box...great way to get some loved games out of sight for a while!
    Hmm...I wish I could sneak the Lincoln Logs and the wooden train set in there so I don't have to put them away 10 times a day, but maybe that's a chore I just have to put up with. =)

  22. What a huge number of wonderful ideas! Thank you for this. I love the extension of the crown of jewels and the Almsbox is great. You have a treasury of suggestions and ideas here.
    Wishing you a Blessed Lent,
    Pax Christi,

  23. You really make me miss having little ones around. We loved crafts and children learn so much by having fun and enjoying His Presence as they play and create. Wonderful ideas for when my grandchildren grow and actually are born!!!

  24. What wonderful ideas. We use a Lenten calendar as well. I love the idea of the sacrifice box. Thanks for sharing.

  25. Your ideas for Lent are so similar to my list. I like the ones I don't have such as Sponsoring a child, Family service project, and seeds in the soil of sacrifice. Wonderful choices I may have to add to my list for next year. Thanks!


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