Lent is an opportunity to rebalance our lives

Faith in the Family

When I was a child, I gave up sweets for Lent. My aunt owned a shop in the town and every Tuesday after piano class I would call in to her and help to move all the fruit and veg display from the main street back into the shop at closing time. My ten pence pay would normally be spent on sweets but in Lent it bought two apples. There was one year I decided to still buy the sweets and hoard them for Easter Sunday. But even at the age of eight, I knew I was somehow missing the point. 

As a young adult, I decided that giving up things for Lent was negative and had no great purpose. Instead, I would take something up for Lent, be positive about it. I did indeed take up trying to read or pray a bit more, perhaps go to Mass more often. There is a lot to be said for developing new and positive habits in Lent and then trying to keep them going.

However, over recent years, as an adult – and particularly as a parent – I have also returned to the idea of giving up something for Lent and encourage my children to do the same. Why? Most of us live lives where we have all our basic needs met. When we are hungry we reach for food, when we are thirsty the struggle is no more challenging than whether it’s tea, a cappuccino or a coke that we want. Could it be that there is something to be said for rediscovering longing and desire?

Give up coffee

My children challenge me every year to give up coffee and so I do. Every day through Lent I am sure to want a cup of coffee. Most days I will be somewhere where I will smell coffee and long for a cup. What does this achieve?

We live in a world of almost instant gratification. Lent puts me in touch with my longing. It creates a space in me that knows what it is to wait.

Every day of Lent, I will be reminded that it is indeed Lent and I will be drawn towards Easter. The cups of coffee I want but do not have become the stepping stones on my journey towards Easter.

More importantly still the experience of wanting puts me in touch with a deeper wanting. I begin to recognise the desires that direct my life. Aware of the dynamic of the Lenten journey I become more aware of my desire for God, my need for God.

Beneath the more mundane yearning there is an all-together more powerful yearning. And so my Lenten lack of coffee reconnects me. To give it up is not negative. It is about getting back in touch with my longing for God.

The second challenge I will be facing this year makes me more than a little nervous – I will be giving up Facebook. Together with many parents I am concerned about how much time my teenagers spend online. I nudge – and nag – them to put down their phones.

However, I have come to realise that I’m more than a little hooked on Facebook myself. I reach for my phone first thing in the morning. When I’m sitting waiting for my kids to come out of school or training, I reach for my phone – just in case something vital is happening on Facebook. I wonder why my life is so busy, why there is so little space – now I’m beginning to realise that I’m allowing the space to be crowded out of my life by my Facebook habit.

So for Lent, Facebook is going – or at least that’s the plan! Yes it is a wonderful way to keep up with what Pope Francis is saying, what my friends and family are up to, items of interest in the media but it is also a constant chatter of trivia, ads and superficial nonsense.

I hope that by giving up Facebook I will rediscover some space and silence in my life. I hope that when I find myself sitting waiting for one or more of my children – and I do a lot of that – I will just sit and be and think and maybe even pray.

Longing for God and space to grow our relationship with God – I think that is what Lent is really about. As families we can find different ways to do this and it is important that each person, each family finds the way that works for them.

What could you give up that would be a daily reminder to you of your Lenten journey and deepen your desire for God and Easter Sunday?

You might like to create some space for prayer in your family. Veritas have wonderful resources for children and adults to help us navigate our Lenten journey – booklets of prayers, reflections and activities costing only a couple of euro.

You might find that praying the Rosary works for you or reflecting together at night on where God has been present in the people and the happenings of the day or simply praying grace together before you eat. Making a choice to give up treats or have a simple meal once a week with the money saved going into the Trócaire box or to other charities reminds us that Lent is a time of prayer, fasting and giving to others.

Perhaps one of the most vital things we can do as a family is to have the courage to talk about our faith. Shared faith grows strong. Lent is also a wonderful time to celebrate the Sacrament of Reconciliation by going to Confession.

Over these weeks we are invited deeper into relationship with the God who loves us. Lent is challenging but it is not meant to be harsh. It is an opportunity to rebalance our lives, to rediscover our longing and make time for God.