For 5 long years I've struggled with how to do Lent with kids. I didn't want to confuse or overburden them with the idea of fasting when they were so young and didn't fully understand. I felt like I would simply be taking something away, without them being able to gain the spiritual fruits of their sacrifices. After watching them travel through Advent this time I realized I was looking at things all wrong. During Advent we treated that time of preparation as a gift and the kids ate it up. Instead of waking up one day and having it be Christmas, we had some build-up. While presents were a big deal in their minds, it was such a joy to see them make a space in their hearts for the Christ-child. When the congregation rang out the words of the Angels, "Glory to God in the highest!", the kids, after an entire Advent of preparing, were so full of joy I'm sure they out sang (or out shouted??) the choir.
So why can't we do that with Lent? Why can't we use these 40 days of Lent to make that space in their hearts a little bigger, a little deeper, a little broader? I remember last year on Good Friday we took the kids up to reverence the Cross. The three oldest had so much tenderness for Jesus. They asked me when we got back in the pew if we were kissing Jesus to make His boo-boos all better. My daughter, after I explained the crucifix was an image to remind us of how much Jesus loves us, said she wishes she could hug Jesus and kiss all His boo-boos better for real. They have hearts of such deep compassion and love for Christ, even if they don't understand all the theological realities yet.
After some discussion and prayer with my husband, we came upon an obvious idea for a fast for the kids, and honestly for me too. We decided to propose to the kids that they give up TV Monday to Saturday during Lent. It didn't take long for the three oldest, our real TV fiends, to jump on the idea. We had experimented with keeping the TV off a few weeks ago without anyone getting killed or even maimed. Because of that recent experience they knew that no TV didn't mean no fun. It meant more time to ask Mommy 2 million question, do art projects, lots of music and games, and play using their imagination in freedom instead of being weighed down by suggested concepts from their favourite shows. In addition to having the TV off, I'm going to make sure we take part of each day to pray together and to talk about what Easter is all about so that when we reach Easter Sunday they'll sing with their loudest voice their thanks and praise to Jesus, their friend and saviour. That will be a gift worth every moment of sacrifice and extra preparation I can muster for them. I'm sure there are days when I'm be tempted to let them tune in and tune out, but hopefully I'll be able to pray through it and instead tune them into the Spirit that is whispering mercy and hope in their tiny hearts.
My husband and I, besides giving up some of the usual suspects (fast food being a sore spot for our bodies, souls and budget), will be adding on special time for prayer together as a couple. We hope to join a novena for Pope Benedict XVI as he passes quietly into a life of prayer and contemplation, and for his successor, who will be passing from relative anonymity to become a faithful shepherd to over a billion Catholics. We also hope to complete a dedication to Christ through the Blessed Virgin Mary. My sincere hope is that our meagre efforts will bring us closer as a couple and a family, and that we will find ourselves closer to Christ as we weep at the foot of the Cross, wait in vigil by the tomb, and celebrate again the Resurrection. Tonight, let the imposition of the ashes on our foreheads be a reminder that we owe our life and breath to God, and let it be the beginning of our journey as a family to come closer to the heart of Christ.