Great Lent is almost here! I truly love this season–it is one of my favorite times of the year. I look forward to the change in rhythm that it brings: the frequent and beautiful services, the call to slow down and eliminate things that draw my focus away from God, the solemn anticipation of the most glorious day of the Feast of Feasts.
But, (can I be honest here?) sometimes Lent is really hard.
–Planning meals takes extra effort since I can’t just open a box of mac and cheese whenever I don’t have the energy to cook a real supper.
-Services are frequent and beautiful, but that can be a difficult thing if you have young children. Wrangling three young children while trying to make prostrations isn’t really conducive to a peaceful, meditative spiritual experience.
-Temptations seem to rear their ugly heads with greater frequency and intensity. Sins that I thought I had put behind me find ways to seep back into my life. Frustration builds and my patience wears thin.
-And the guilt. Oh, the guilt. If “Mom guilt” is a thing, surely we can agree that it is even stronger during Lent? We see other mothers posting pictures of their children happily engaged in a Lent-related craft. We think of all the things that we “should” be doing to help our kids really grasp the beauty of this Lenten season. We miss a few services because of illness or exhaustion or just plain lack of desire to keep children calm and quiet during yet another hour of church. And cue the guilt.
If any of that resonated with you, I get it. 100%. Been there. Am there.
So, today I just wanted to share 3 resources that may help you out during Great Lent this year. They are all fully Orthodox, reasonably priced, and designed to help lessen stress and increase family engagement during Lent.
And, I have used all of these resources and can honestly recommend them.
Quick caveat: if any of these would add to your stress or guilt-load, don’t think twice about ignoring the recommendation. Do what works for you and for your family.
1. Pascha Passports
We used these Pascha Passports for the first time last year, and all three of my kids (then ages 3-9) loved them! Each child receives their own passport and sheet of stickers. They are able to place stickers on designated spots for each of the Lenten services they attend (it actually begins in the Triodion, but you can start later if needed). There are also stickers for “Day Trips” like going to Confession, saying the Jesus Prayer, and more.
I was actually astonished at how into the whole thing my kids were. They looked forward to attending the services, happily talked about the meaning of the various services with me, and were excited to put their stickers into their passports.
The passports (put out by Saint Spyridon Greek Orthodox Church in Loveland, Colorado) are also insanely affordable. A passport costs $2.10 and a sticker sheet costs $1.00. There is also a shipping fee. I was able to get 3 passports, 3 sticker sheets, and shipping all for $15.
If going to services has been one of your stress points, the passports may prove helpful! I would recommend them for ages 3 through at least 10. You can order here.
2. My Beautiful Lent
I am not a super creative cook. Instead I tend to streamline meal-planning and simplify anything that I possibly can. (You can see that by Our Honest Lenten Meal Plan!)
Plus, I work outside the home as a full-time teacher. By the time we get home around 5 each night, I am completely sapped of energy. Start making a crazy complicated recipe involving ingredients I can’t pronounce? Not likely.
Because of this, I really like My Beautiful Lent–a website and Lenten meal-planning service run by Cynthia Damaskos. My Beautiful Lent gives three different options for their services, starting at $19.
I especially enjoyed the weekly video interviews that Cynthia does with various Orthodox priests, authors, and more to discuss Great Lent. This year’s guests include Kh. Frederika Matthewes-Green, Abbot Tryphon, Fr. Andrew Stephen Damick, and Joshua Jackson among others.
If Lenten meal-planning causes anxiety, you can check out the website here.
3. Tending the Garden of the Heart Devotional Book
Finally, this last resource is also the most recent. As a convert from Protestantism, I often struggle with the idea of doing devotions as a family. Is it ok? How should I do it? Am I being “Orthodox enough”?
That is one reason I loved Elissa Bjeletich and Kristina Wenger’s book. There is a 3-4 page devotion for each day that can be done as a whole family. There is also a fantastic appendix with further ideas for crafts, activities, and more based on each week of Lent.
Tending the Garden of the Heart, published by Ancient Faith Publishing, is a meaningful tool to help your entire family engage in the spiritual discipline of Great Lent.
I found the devotions (about a Scripture passage, life of a saint, or theme of Lent) to be suitable for elementary-aged children to high-schoolers. The discussion questions at the end of each chapter range from basic comprehension questions designed for a younger audience to more in-depth analysis appropriate for teenagers.
Finally, I really appreciated the section titled “How to Use This Book” that gave readers permission to dip into the book when they had time but not feel guilty if they missed some days. Don’t try to play catch-up, the authors encourage, but just go to today’s reading and work from there. As a struggling perfectionist, I was thankful for this advice!
If you would like to help your family grow spiritually during Lent (without having to come up with ideas all on your own!), you can purchase the book here.
And, now, a bonus! I will be giving away a copy of Tending the Garden of Our Hearts to a lucky reader!
To be enter the giveaway, simply leave a comment on this post. Let me know either what your greatest struggles are during Lent or what you are looking forward to this Lent.
The giveaway will close on Tuesday, March 5. I will then use the random number generator to select the winner, whom I will contact via e-mail.
A Blessed Fast to you all.