Lent: Isn’t it time for an upgrade?

computerI was doing dishes in the kitchen last week when Jacob came in and started unloading the dishwasher. While dishwasher unloading is a job that belongs to the kids, I had not yet asked anyone to empty it.

“Who are you, and what have you done with Jacob?” I said to him. Jacob smiled—he knew what I meant. While I would never describe Jacob as lazy, he usually needs to be reminded to do his jobs around the house.

“Is this a new and improved version of Jacob?” I continued. “I like it.”

“Version 2.0,” he said, alluding to system upgrades on computers that get a new number each time.

It does feel like Jacob, at 15, has received a recent upgrade. It’s nothing dramatic—upgrades seldom are. It’s the same Jacob but with more power and stronger capabilities.

Jacob 2.0 has made me stop and think about Lent as a time for all of us to upgrade to a stronger and more capable version of ourselves. Every so often at work, a pop-up will appear on my screen and tell me that an upgrade of a program is available. I’m prompted to click “Upgrade now” or “Remind me later.” In my company, “No, thanks” is not an option. The IT department has decided that we all need the upgrades—it’s just a matter of when we choose to take them.

The same is true for Lent. Each Lent the church suggests an upgrade—and we have the choice to upgrade now or be reminded later, perhaps next Advent or Lent.

Given the choice of receiving an upgraded self, why then do many of us choose the “Remind me later” option? Why do we pass up allowing God to change us during Lent in favor of continuing as we have been? I suspect it’s the same reason I often choose not to upgrade right away at work. Upgrading on a computer means you need to stop what you’re doing for a bit; the computer needs to shut down and restart. Many times it’s easier to hit “Later” and not take time out at that moment.

Upgrading within the context of Lent means turning parts of ourselves “off” so that God has space to make a change. God needs us to step out of our regular lives so that we can be restarted with more power and grace.

If you’ve chosen the “Remind me later” option for the last few Lents, you can make a commitment to choose “Upgrade now” for this one.

Plan your own retreat: “One Lent I set aside time for my husband and me to go on a ‘retreat’ within our home that I had planned,” says Colleen, a mom in her mid-30s. “We lit candles and read the books of Isaiah and Hosea and had discussion points. It really opened up our faith lives to one another and helped us to reconnect.”

Work with God to make a change: “Every year, I pray about it, then pick something to change about myself, and every year it is a 40-day journey to that change,” says Amy, a mother of three, ages 9 to 13. “One time it took four Lents of trying to make the same change before it happened—it was giving up talking badly about other people. I always pray more, always do the rosary, always do adoration—so it is my favorite time of the year spiritually.”

Break Lent into smaller chunks: “For a while I felt like I was failing at Lent because I couldn’t sustain my commitment,” says Jack, a dad in his 40s. “Then I decided to take it week by week. Now one week I’ll make a point of serving once or twice at the meal program; another week I’ll read to my kids every night. By the time Easter comes, I will have done a number of good things, and I’ll feel that I changed for the better.”

By Annemarie Scobey, from the pages of At Home with Our Faith, Claretian Publications’ print newsletter for parents on nurturing spirituality in the home. Winner of the Best in Class award in 2014 from the Associated Church Press, as well as a First Place General Excellence award from the Catholic Press Association for  four years running. Here’s a sample issue.

We offer very low rates for parish use, as well as our free Moms’ Night Out monthly discussion guides.

And don’t miss our popular single-page parish handouts on handing on the faith, helping kids understand the Mass, Lent, and Advent.

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photo: istock

Try for a Lenten moment

girl ashesIf you’re feeling discouraged because your effort to give up chocolate was thwarted by the coworker who brought the birthday cake to work, don’t lose heart. Lent is not a pass/fail class. Rather, it is a journey of becoming closer to God through prayer, sacrifice, and generosity. Seeing Lent only as a 40-day block can prevent us from taking advantage of Lenten moments—opportunities that arise each day for us to deepen our relationship with God. Here are a few:

• Prayer. Between now and Easter, look for five minutes alone with your spouse. Face each other, hold hands, and ask your spouse what he or she is most worried about. Then together pray an Our Father, slowly, for that worry. Then do the same for your worry, followed by a prayer of gratitude from each of you.

• Generosity. Almsgiving is the traditional way to be generous during Lent, but generosity can be practiced in small moments throughout the day—flowers for a teacher, a plate of cookies for an elderly neighbor, a thank-you note to a priest who inspired you with a recent homily.

• Sacrifice. The strong among us are able to sustain a 40-day fast from sweets, chips, or alcohol during Lent, but the rest of us need to start small with our sacrifice. Try a focused, one- to three-day fast from something you truly enjoy, but for a purpose. Give up your afternoon Diet Coke for three days straight and pray for your oldest child. Skip sweets for a day and make a point to learn more about those areas of the world affected by hunger.

By Annemarie Scobey, from the pages of At Home with Our Faith, Claretian Publications’ print newsletter for parents on nurturing spirituality in the home. Winner of the Best in Class award in 2014 from the Associated Church Press, as well as a First Place General Excellence award from the Catholic Press Association for  four years running. Here’s a sample issue.

We offer very low rates for parish use, as well as our free Moms’ Night Out monthly discussion guides.

And don’t miss our popular single-page parish handouts on handing on the faith, helping kids understand the Mass, Lent, and Advent.

Like us on Facebook and follow Homefaith on Twitter.

Take a snow day this Lent (part two)

What should be “closed” this Lent?

Real snow days dawn with every television and radio station listing schools and workplaces that are closed. Perhaps our Lent should begin with a list of the non-essentials that rob us of time to give to God and our community.

Television and Internet: Give up some TV and Internet time and give yourself the gift of taking a half hour to journal, read a spiritual book, or pray the rosary.

E-mail and texting: Yes, these can be great ways to communicate, but they can also take us away from the people who are in our presence right now. Like all forms of communication, they need to be contained. Choose a block of time during the day that you will commit to no electronic communication. A candle burning quietly on the counter can be a reminder not to run to the computer for a quick check.

Shopping: Shopping as entertainment offers little in the area of spiritual satisfaction. Instead try spending more time outdoors, at museums, or visiting other places that help you look at the world beyond yourself. Consider using the money you save as part of your Lenten alms.

Unhealthy habits: Whether you gossip, smoke, eat, or drink too much, any unhealthy habit can get in the way of our becoming all that God intends. Lent can be an opportunity to clear our lives of some things that stand between God and us.

By Annemarie Scobey, from the archives of At Home with Our Faith newsletter

Take a snow day this Lent, part one

The analogy of Lent as a desert has never worked for me. I was born and raised in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and except for a year spent in Chicago, I’ve lived here my whole life. When Lent arrives in Wisconsin, winter is only half over. Last year, Ash Wednesday in Milwaukee was ushered in with a blizzard that closed every school and most businesses in the metro area. To me that snowstorm is a fitting beginning to what Lent should be about every year. 
Lent, when done right, should begin by shutting everything down. Last year’s blizzard turned what would have been a typically complicated day—school, practices, errands—into a very simple one. All six of us home together, shoveling and eating vegetable soup. It can be hard to see what in our lives is essential if we never take time to step away. Lent provides the opportunity to take a spiritual snow day. It is a time of “closing” some of the non-essentials in our lives. 
The interminable snow and ice of Wisconsin’s February can be a spiritual analogy for Lent just as surely as the more traditional dryness and sand. When I struggle to see God’s presence in my life, it is usually because I’m in the middle of a situation that seems impossible. If I turn one way, there’s cold wind whipping on my face; the other way I’m hit with freezing rain. 

If the desert analogy of Lent is about being alone, a winter analogy of Lent has to involve people. Winter makes you want to huddle. While we know well the story of Jesus spending 40 days in the desert by himself, I doubt that if he lived in a different climate, he would have gone into the cold, snowy forest alone for the same amount of time. Winter alone can be dangerous. Lent alone can be dangerous, too. 

Perhaps in no church season is the community as important as it is during Lent. In looking into ourselves and seeing our own brokenness, we need to be around people who are doing the same. Jesus himself recognized that he shouldn’t be alone in his most difficult hour—and desperately asked his disciples not to leave him by falling asleep. 

The icy winds of Lent require us to find people to huddle with. The prayer, fasting, and almsgiving of Lent underline the importance of this community huddle. We pray and fast with our community, and then we give alms to those who need our help. Though Ash Wednesday is not a holy day of obligation, we turn out at church in great numbers. We know we belong together on this day. We know we cannot be alone in the cold.   …next week, part two: What should be “closed” for Lent?

By Annemarie Scobey, from the archives of At Home with Our Faith newsletter

Sample parish handouts from HomeFaith now online!

View our sample parish handouts

Handouts for your parish from At Home with Our Faith.                      View these samples, then call 1-800-328-6515 to order or use this                    Homefaith Basics faxable order form

Advent and Christmas family handouts:

Four ways to light up your family’s Advent

Slow down your family’s Christmas

Lent and Holy Week family handouts:

14 family lessons from the Stations of the Cross

Take the plunge into Lent

40 ways to deepen your family’s faith this Lent

What Jesus is dying to show you: A family guide to Holy Week 

Handouts on Mass and Handouts on Mass :

Mass: It does a family good

12 ways to bring family life to Mass

8 ways that parish and parents can be partners

A parent’s 10 Commandments for passing on the faith

Who is your kids’ best teacher of the faith? You are!

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