We moms who want to nurture our relationship with God—but also lead busy lives with children—often find ourselves caught between a rock and hard place. Prayer practices seem to require 1) undivided chunks of time; 2) quiet; 3) a peaceful environment. I don’t know about you, but those three almost NEVER occur at our house, at least not at the same time!
So I’ve learned that realistic expectations for prayer are essential as a parent. Lent is no exception. Over the years I’ve tried to live by these 3 simple ideas, and each year I find that they lead me in surprising ways to a deeper Lent.
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Lower your expectations.
Every year, Lent becomes the Same Story. I set all these lofty goals: I will pray this much! I will read that book! I will give up this bad habit! I will give more to those in need! Then life intervenes in its usual busy, frantic ways, and I wind up feel utterly deflated by my inability to make any progress in my Lenten disciplines.
I want to do All The Things, and then I set myself up for failure.
So for the past few years, I’ve deliberately tried to be cautious about my plans for Lent. Honestly, I set the bar low and I refuse to beat up on myself. Surprisingly, this has led me to stick to my Lenten disciplines better than I ever did in the past. I try to care for myself like I think God would: gently, lovingly, with forgiveness and understanding. So I let myself stumble, and then I celebrate when I pick myself up.
Lent is a time for growth, for discipline and self-reflection, and for deepening our relationship with God. It’s not a time to feel lousy about ourselves for not doing enough.
I also think it’s important to remember that as parents, we make sacrifices all year round. So our living of Lent goes beyond 40 days—we don’t have to do everything right now!
Make short time for small prayer.
My spiritual director always reminds me of two truths: your work as a mother is prayer and your desire to pray is prayer. This last one took me a long time to accept. At first it seemed like a cop-out—don’t I actually have to PRAY to please God? But I have come to understand that God knows the deepest desires of our hearts. God knows that our longing for prayer is itself good and holy.
So I try to welcome the desire for prayer when it comes, and then carve out time and space to attend to that desire—sometimes later in the day after the kids are all in bed, or sometimes right in the crazy moment with three little boys tugging at my sleeve.
But I try to let go of the expectation that I can pray like a monk in an abbey with all the time, space, and place set neatly before him. That’s not my life. Nor is it my call.
Instead, I can pray like a busy mother.
Instead, I can pray like a busy mother.
I can take two minutes to greet the day with a whispered word of thanks. I can share a short morning prayer with my kids when they wake up. I can bless our food at meals and remember those who will go without today. I can pray with my kids on the drive to school and in the quiet of their rooms before bed. I can slow down in the day’s whirlwind to give thanks for the gifts in my life.
My mantra has become “make short time for small prayer.” I don’t have an hour to meditate, but I have hours with many small moments I can fill with a word of blessing, praise, or petition. In this season of my life, that is what I have to give. And I think God, who cares for us all like a loving parent, understands and blesses that truth.
Shake up everyday habits in little ways. Change your homepage from email to something more meaningful, like a website with prayer and scripture for daily reflection. Stop yourself before turning on the radio or TV first thing in the morning, and simply sit in the silence. Make your cup of coffee at home instead of grabbing a latte while running errands, and donate the extra $3 instead. Even in the busy whirl of work-kids-home-repeat, we can all find small ways to break out of our routine and become more mindful of how we’re living during Lent.
Give your “alms” online. What busy mother hasn’t turned to online shopping for diapers, groceries, clothes or other necessities? Do the same with your Lenten giving. In past years I’ve been able to organize our Lenten donations online at night once the kids are sleeping. So much easier than frantically trying to dig out my wallet from the diaper bag when they’re taking up a collection at church!
Multi-task: Combine Lenten practices with spring cleaning. I’ve been inspired by the “40 Bags in 40 Days” challenge to rid our home of extra clothes and household goods. What haven’t we used in years? What could someone else use that we don’t want? I’ve always been haunted by the teachings of the early church fathers that the unworn clothes in our closets belong to the poor. So digging through and giving away has been a wonderful Lenten practice—and jumpstarts our spring cleaning, too!
What works for you? How are you living Lent this year?