If you are the caretaker of small children, you implicitly understand complex physics that take others many, many years to fumble towards. For example, as the parent of little humans, you understand that time is not constant, but rather a relative, fluid thing. You know this in your bones, and it’s what helps you understand how February can both inch by at glacial paces and temperatures, yet somehow skitter past so quickly that it’s now several days into Lent and you haven’t even begun thinking of how to involve your small progeny in its observance.
Never fear! As a woman with over a decade of Lent-with-children under my belt, I have some simple, spiritually relevant, and moderately painless suggestions to help you instill a sense of Liturgical awareness into your progeny.
First off, do you have a printer? If so, go print off this calendar immediately. I don’t know who Traci Smith is, but based on her calendar alone, I want to make her my best friend. An entire Lent full of easy activities that focus on the three pillars of the season: prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. Our printer is broken, so I hounded my husband to make a copy at work, and it’s slapped up on the fridge, front and center. I check it out every morning when I stumble to get the cream for my coffee, and boom! an idea to help anchor the day’s spiritual focus.
If you feel that your crafting skills are up for it, the prayer chain is always a crowd favorite. Count out how many days left in Lent (at the time of this writing, there are roughly 750 more, give or take) and cut that many strips of paper. As a family, start a list of prayer intentions. You can direct suggestions as much or as little as you want. Last year when we did it, we just let the kids come up with whatever prayer intention the Holy Spirit prompted in their hearts, so we had things like, “For all the people of Nova Scotia”, or “for everyone who wants a pet but can’t have one because their family is allergic to them” peppered in among the more traditional prayer intentions. Write one intention per strip of paper, turn the strips into a chain, and hang it up. Once per day, tear off a link in the chain, pray as a family for the intention written on it, and watch Easter come ever closer.
Have older kids? Find some jumbo-sized plastic Easter eggs, and write each person in the family’s name on them, one name per egg. Encourage the family to do small acts of kindness for one another- secretly do a chore for them, pray a Rosary for them, leave them a small, unexpected gift. Each time they do, have them write it down on a small slip of paper- “I prayed a Rosary for you”, or “I made your bed for you”, “I went a day without TV for your prayer intentions” etc.- and put the paper in the person’s egg. On Easter, the family opens their eggs and sees all the prayers, fasting, and acts of kindness that were done for them. Since the slips of paper have no names written on them, this is a great way to help older kids practice the Matthew 6:3 ninja skills, namely: doing good works in such a way that your left hand doesn’t know what your right hand is doing. If you have adolescents, this is a particularly poignant activity, since the equal-but-opposing desires to be seen and also to blend in are frequently at battle.
Ultimately, though, the efficacy of Lent is not dependent on the quality of crafts or activities. If you, as the guardian of some of God’s most profound blessings, are already feeling rushed, and overscheduled, and stretched to the breaking point, don’t add anything else during this season. There is no Lenten Olympics, and there are no medals for most Pinteresty observance of the season. As my six-year old says, “Lent is for making your heart bigger for Jesus”. If all you can manage with your children is extra time at night, curled up together and murmuring prayers of adoration, of supplication, of contrition, then breathe easy, knowing you’ve spent part of this season helping your child grow a bigger heart for Christ.