Messy Lent

With Ash Wednesday coming up in just two days, I spent this weekend panicking and making lists. Lists of what to memorize, what to sacrifice, what to give, what to pray for, and what projects to complete for Lent. Our season, like our house, is often messy. There’s too much going on all at once and things — from my own ideas to the kids’ papers — get lost. It ends up just fine, though. Easter still arrives!

Here is a list of how our family makes the Lenten season real. In no particular order, of course, because Messy.

  • We memorize something different each week, switching between Scripture verses, prayers, and songs. Over the years, we’ve circled around and worked on the same ones. This is good, though, as our eldest are gone and the younger ones need to hear it all again. We’ve learned chunks of Psalm 51, Tobiah’s advice to Tobit, the act of contrition (remember: we converted 11 years ago and didn’t grow up with these), and the Stabat Mater.
  • We have a family penance for all of us. We usually switch between no sweets and no screens. This year may be both. I like relying on regular food and I don’t like all the time spent on computers instead of building forts, legos, and outdoors. It’s messier, but better.
  • We make lapbooks. At least that’s what I call them; I think there’s an actual thing but I cobble together papers and projects into purple folders and call them lapbooks. There are many websites for Lenten activites and the folders get filled with crosswords, puzzles, and coloring pictures. They particularly love a calendar countdown map and religiously color in a square every evening, all the way to the Holy Triduum.
  • We make stations of the cross, either colored and hung along the mantle or in popsicle stick frames stood up on the mantle and go through them every Friday. We don’t usually attend our church’s Friday evening soup and stations because of all my little kids and because I don’t like going out at night. But in my weekend panic, I thought we’d give it a try this year.
  • I have purple accessories and decorations for the house: purple silk flowers, purple cloths for the table and bookcases, purple candles (they smell weird but are the right color), and packages of only purple construction paper for all their art.
  • We love our St. Joseph’s Day party on March 19. A few years ago, our daughter found a St. Joseph prayer book and announced that he needed more attention. Something like, “We’re mostly Irish and eat Irish all the time anyway so let’s forget about St. Patrick’s day and have a party with these foods and traditions for St. Joseph.” We happily complied. But without forgetting about my St. Patrick!
  • We do spring cleaning during these weeks, a different big item each weekend.
  • We attend a reconciliation service and confession at least once during Lent.
  • We make Easter cards to send to relatives.
  • We make a crown of thorns by braiding playdough around a dinner plate, stabbing it full of toothpicks, and placing a small bowl in the middle of it. It dries crunchy in a few days. When I see the children doing something kind, or just refraining from hitting (small victory, but it counts), I tell them to take out a “thorn” and put in the bowl. Easter morning, the thorns are replaced by colorful jellybeans. Sometimes I have to add more toothpicks secretly because I see that we’ll run out before Easter!

So I’m sort of ready. The house is still messy and my ideas are a little muddled, but we have six weeks to stumble along with our Mother Church holding our hands. She will help us to love Jesus more and love others more. Let’s enter the wilderness of Lent for penance, piety, work, and wonder. We know how the story ends. Halleluia!


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