At the beginning of each Lent, I like to sit down (preferably with a cup of tea and a warm blanket) and reflect on the upcoming season of the Church. In my mind, I envision Lent as a slow time. A time to ponder. A time to move through life at a different pace.
In reality, Lent becomes busy. It is often during one of the busiest times of the schoolyear (I’m a teacher) with tests, evaluations, projects, and activities. My kids generally have more on their schedules. Plus, there’s the extra services, the increased time needed for meal planning, and the list goes on.
If I don’t make a plan and decide which things are essential for my own and my children’s spiritual health, I can become so overwhelmed with the daily busy that I lose sight of the eternal rest offered in Christ.
What does this planning look like? It’s simple.
I think about our Lent in terms of five areas prescribed by the Church: prayer, fasting, almsgiving, study, and worship.
“Although prayer is a habitual action for us, it needs preparation.” St. Theophan the Recluse
I don’t know about you, but I find great comfort in this quote and the fact that a saint of the Church had to prepare for prayer. We prayer our hearts for prayer, yes. But, we also need to prepare our schedules, our routines, and our spaces in order to make prayer a natural part of our lives. Lent is the time to focus on this gift and discipline.
This Lent we are going to:
-Pray the Prayer of St. Ephraim each evening as a family.
-Pray the Trisagion Prayers each morning before school.
-Pray for others in our evening prayers.
I am planning on using the 15 minutes after my kids leave for the bus and before I need to leave for work as a time of study and prayer. I know that 15 minutes isn’t much, but it is better than nothing.
“Fasting is acceptable to God when abstention from food is accompanied by refraining from sins, from envy, from hatred, from calumny, from vainglory, from wordiness, from other evils.” St. Photios the Great
We tend to have super simple Lenten meal plans in our house. However, this year will be a bit different. Since I was recently diagnosed with severe iron deficiency anemia (requiring intravenous iron infusions), it isn’t safe for me to abstain from meat at the moment.
So, our meals will still include meat and dairy. However, I am fasting from indulgent dishes such as ice cream, sweets in general, and extravagant meats such as steak. In addition, I am going to abstain from alcohol for the duration of Lent.
I am having to approach this Fast differently, with more humility. Great Lent will not be the marathon of self-denial that I often (ironically) pride myself on my ability to complete. Instead, it will be a discipline of thankfulness. Gratitude to God for the food that I have; gratitude that this food is helping my body get the nutrients that it needs; gratitude that he gives me grace despite my weakness.
“Feeding the hungry is a greater work than raising the dead.” St. John Chrysostom
Our plan for Great Lent includes opportunities to give to others. Some things will be done as a family, and some will be done individually. Here are a few of our plans:
-Diaper Drive. Our church is having a diaper drive to provide for a local charity supporting women with young children. Each week during Lent, the kids and I will go and purchase a package of diapers to bring to Church.
-Letters to Elderly Relatives. We will spend an afternoon writing letters or making cards to send to elderly relatives that we haven’t been able to see over the past year.
-Donating Clothing and Toys. The kids and I will go through their closets and rooms and sort out items to donate to a local charity.
“In order to fulfill the commandments of Christ, you must know them! Read the Holy Gospel, penetrate its spirit and make it the rule of your life.” St. Nikon of Optina
Study includes both study of the Scriptures and study of spiritual things. This often entails reading books on the lives of the saints, the spiritual disciplines, and more.
We plan on reading through the Gospel of Mark with the kids this Lent. As the shortest Gospel, it’s a bit more accessible and doable during the time period. We are going to read a portion of a chapter each evening.
I enjoy reading good Orthodox books. I enjoy reading, period! So, this is my love language. This Lent I plan on reading:
–Putting Joy Into Practice: Seven Ways to Life Your Spirit From the Early Church by Phoebe Faraq Mikhail
–The Spiritual Life by St. Theophan the Recluse (as part of our parish book study)
“There is nothing on earth higher, greater, or more holy than the Divine Liturgy; nothing more solemn, nothing more life-giving.” St. John of Kronstadt
Attending Lenten services with school age children can be tricky. It often involves a careful orchestration of dinner, homework, and showers worked around the service. Because my kids have early bedtimes and attend school, I also need to keep sleep in mind. A tired kid is a grumpy kid.
Therefore, we will aim to attend at least one Lenten service a week. Our church offers Compline on Monday, Pre-Sanctified Liturgy on Wednesday, and an Akathist on Friday. We can make at least one of those work each week.
In years past, my husband and I have “traded off” services–he would go to one while I stayed home with the kids, and then we would switch. However, now that he is a priest, this won’t work anymore. He kind of needs to be there! But, this can be an excellent option for non-clergy families.
With this planning completed, I am ready to begin our journey to Pascha. I am ready to enter the bright sadness of Great Lent.
What is your family’s plan for Great Lent?