As a Catholic mother of small children, I have spent the last few weeks praying about how we are going to celebrate the Lenten season in our domestic Church. After a busy Christmas season and winter, I am feeling the call to strip back down to the basics. I want to focus on what is most essential about Lent. To do this, I pulled out my catechism to see what the Church says about Lent: “By the solemn forty days of Lent, the Church unites herself each year to the mystery of Jesus in the desert” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, No. 540).
In my awe and wonder, I begin to ask questions like, “If this is who you are, then who am I?” “If this is what you’ve done for me, then what is my response?” “If I come to the desert and sit with you in my brokenness, will you stay?”
To guide each child individually this Lent, my husband and I will spend time with them in “lectio divina” using Matthew 4:1-11 to see where the Spirit will lead them. “Lectio divina” is a way of reading, meditating on, praying with and contemplating Scripture. (Check out the recommended reading section at the bottom for our favorite “lectio divina” book for children.)
Many lessons come from Matthew 4:1-11:
- Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert. Jesus was not abandoned. This Lent, I want my children to develop a relationship with the Holy Spirit so that it becomes natural for them to turn to him when they feel like no one else could possibly understand what they are going through.
- Jesus reminds us that the word that comes from the mouth of God sustains us. This Lent, I want my children to know that our strength does not come from any sort of earthly status or possession. When they are weary and defeated, I want my children to open the Word of God to allow him to fill all of the crevices of their little bodies with his strength.
- Forty is the number of gestation and new birth in the Bible. When God uses the number 40, he is carrying his people close to his heart and is creating something new in them. (Noah spent 40 days on the ark. Moses spent 40 days on Mount Sinai. A baby spends 40 weeks in the womb.)
This Lent, I want to invite each child into relationship with Jesus to ask him what he would like to do in their hearts over the next 40 days. He might ask them to weed out a specific sin or habit that is destroying their lives. He might ask them to let go of some attachment that has become more important to them than time with him. Or Jesus just might invite them to sit with him for 40 days in the desert to be embraced and blessed by his divine love.
In addition to guiding each child individually during Lent, my husband and I have two Lenten practices that we’ve found to be fruitful for our entire family to experience together:
- We make a crown of thorns out of salt dough and toothpicks to place in the center of our dining room table. Whenever a person in our family does something to alleviate the pain of someone else, they remove a toothpick thorn, and our hope is that we will have a beautiful crown on Easter morning that is free of thorns.
- We have a Jesus Tree to help us walk with Jesus through his earthly ministry, death and resurrection. Like a Jesse tree in Advent, the Jesus Tree devotional includes a Scripture passage to read aloud every day from Ash Wednesday until Easter Sunday. The passages begin with the birth of Jesus and include important events and miracles in his life. Each Scripture passage has an accompanying ornament to put on a simple tree so my children can associate that symbol with each passage. By the time we are finished with the Jesus Tree we have read almost the entire Gospel of Matthew together as a family at our dinner table.
This Lent, we will come to the desert with open hearts. We will simply sit with Jesus in his suffering and allow him to sit with us in ours. After our 40-day gestation period, we will rise together as Easter people.
“Lenten Healing” by Ken Kneipmann includes 40 meditations about digging deep and finding the root of sin in our lives. Ken encourages the reader to focus on the inner healing during Lent that transforms the entire person.
“The Catholic All Year Compendium: Liturgical Living for Real Life” by Kendra Tierney is the ultimate guide for celebrating feast days and liturgical seasons in the home. Kendra provides suggestions for stories, decorations, activities and food to celebrate all of the feast days in our Church.
“Lectio Divina for Little Ones” by Kimberly Fries is a book that walks children through the four steps of reading, meditating, praying and contemplating Scripture. Kimberly explains each step, and children learn how to hear and to respond to God’s voice.
Melaine Myklebust is a wife and a mother to four small children. She is a member of Mary of the Immaculate Conception Parish in Rockville. Melaine has a passion for women’s ministry and leads a Scripture study for women at her parish; she also facilitates the Central Minnesota Catholic Moms Group. You can find Melaine sharing about homeschooling and holistic living at www.melainemyklebust.com.