Have you picked your penance yet?
One of my mom’s favorite stories about my childhood is the time in first grade when I woke her up very early in the morning with a cheerful, “Mom, I need 24 cupcakes for school today.” It seems that many weeks prior, I had been assigned – or volunteered (?) – to bring cupcakes for the whole class. And somehow, it never occurred to me to set preparations in motion earlier than the morning of. My mom hauls out that story every time I get myself into a last-minute situation that could have been prepped for far in advance.
In other words, she tells that story a lot. So, it should surprise exactly no one that I’m not quite ready for Lent tomorrow. Don’t get me wrong – I’m ready for it in the sense that I feel like this long, brutal winter has been a pre-Lent of spectacular proportions, but other than moaning about the polar vortex and the three feet of snow still on the ground with no signs of a spring thaw coming any time soon, I’ve actually done very little to spiritually prep myself and my household for Lent.
If my mom had access to Google back when she was raising me, I’m sure she could have typed in “How do I make 24 cupcakes in 30 minutes without throttling my daughter?” So, being the 21st century woman that I am, I know the Internet will get me out of a tight spot and offer dozens of great ideas for observing Lent, both with my children and by myself.
Lenten prayer chain is a great idea. Little kids can cut out the strips and we’ll call it “fine motor skill development”; middle kids can print out the prayer intentions and it’ll be handwriting class; and big kids can be in charge of coming up with the people and intentions to pray for, and it’ll be religion class. Plus, after making it, no one can accuse me of being skimpy on the craft time.
– Sacrifice Chests. My kids all have wooden chests that store their treasures. We can spend an hour writing out simple ways to put the
Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy into action, and each day they can draw one from the chest.
– Commit to weekly adoration. As a convert, I had absolutely no concept of adoration before entering the Church. And once there, for a long time I thought that adoration could only take place during formal exposition of the Blessed Sacrament. I’m sort of embarrassed to admit that it took me years to realize that I could go to my parish any time, kneel in silence before the Tabernacle, and adore God. Try making a commitment this Lent to a weekly visit to Jesus in the tabernacle. Leave for work 15 minutes early and stop at a parish on your way. Dare to do the intimidating
and bring your children along.
– Dust off your prayer life. Start simply. Even if it’s just
deliberately repeating Jesus’ name in the quiet of your heart. Teach your children the “
5 Finger Prayer”. Commit to saying grace before meals- every meal. For many of us, saying grace in a restaurant is a truly heroic act of bravery.
Fast from something other than food or drink. Remember, the fast in and of itself is a spiritually neutral thing. There is nothing inherently holy about giving things up. Fasting only yields results if it acts as an attention reset, causing you turn your thoughts to God, who is the source of all goodness. A woman I know often fasts from ice cubes in her drinks. This sounds like a ridiculously small thing, until you realize that the woman in question lives in Mississippi, and she saves this particular fast for the summer months. That said, you can imagine how often that small sacrifice yanks her attention back to God.
– Concretely unite yourself to the sufferings of the poor. Take the
Food Stamp Challenge during Lent, and donate your surplus grocery budget to charity.
Have any good Lent ideas for the procrastinators among us? Share them in the comments, and all us members of the 24 Cupcakes at the Last Minute Brigade will be forever in your debt.
Cari Donaldsonis the author of Pope Awesome and Other Stories: How I Found God, Had Kids, and Lived to Tell the Tale. She married her high school sweetheart, had six children with him, and now spends her days homeschooling, writing, and figuring out how to stay one step ahead of her child army. She blogs about faith and family life at clan-donaldson.com.