At the start of the penitential and holy season of Lent, we might have found ourselves scrambling to figure out what to “give up.” We have given up desserts, candy and possibly TV in the past. But maybe we’ve decided to switch our emphasis this year.
And just what is penance anyway? In Vatican II’s Apostolic Constitution on Penance, we read, “Penance therefore—already in the Old Testament—is a religious, personal act which has as its aim love and surrender to God: fasting for the sake of God, not for one’s own self.
“It [the Church] insists first of all that the virtue of penitence be exercised in persevering faithfulness to the duties of one’s state in life, in the acceptance of the difficulties arising from one’s work and from human coexistence, in a patient bearing of the trials of earthly life and of the utter insecurity which pervades it” (Chapter 3).
For mothers, why not consider the obvious when contemplating the proper penance? As parents, we have heard our youngsters ask for our undivided attention. When my daughter Mary-Catherine was two years old, she used to put it this way, “Mommy, turn your face here!”
I remember on one occasion when she precociously explained to me the little game that she had been playing with her doll. I had been listening to her every word, as I busily folded my family’s laundry, trying to catch up with that never-ending chore before the next batch needed to be tackled. But to Mary-Catherine’s mind, I had just been folding towels. She wanted eye contact. She wanted my attention. Her persistence paid off because I eventually got the point and stopped what I was doing, left the mound of laundry for a short while, and put my daughter on my lap for a wonderful conversation.
Of course, we know our tasks in the home are never really complete and that we are on twenty-four hour call to our children’s needs. Yet, this Lenten season would be an ideal time to slow down. But is this notion even possible? There is so much to accomplish within the home and it’s difficult to slow down the pace for fear of getting even further behind.
In actuality, our children are happy to have us bustling about the house while they are at play. They are content knowing that we are in sight nearby. They feel secure in our presence, confident that they can call upon us at any time which seems to be usually when we are up to our elbows in a project!
Wouldn’t it be nice, though, if we could just stop what we are doing and take a break to enjoy our children and allow them the time to be truly with us.
During a season of quiet, of prayer, fasting and reflection, we can please our Lord in a very natural way as mothers, by going about what we do each day and lovingly caring for our children in an ordinary yet extraordinary way.
So, although out of necessity, perhaps we have learned the art of preparing and cooking an entire family meal, or changing a diaper, and folding a load of laundry, while engrossed in a telephone conversation with a close friend, or maybe we accomplish some tasks at times even one-handed while we check our email or tend to something important on the Internet. But, we need to slow down and let go a bit to give our full attention to our children. Take the phone off the hook if necessary, at times, and unplug from some technology for a little peace and quiet in which to enjoy your family.
Playing a short game, watching a family show or spiritual movie together, or reading an uplifting story to our children are welcome changes. A brisk walk in the fresh, cool air are not only refreshing and fun, but will help to bring us all closer together by allowing time to bond, converse and just be together. And these can be teachable moments, too.
An important part of our schedule should be a slot for some individual time with each child. Some crazy busy days it may be only for ten or fifteen minutes each night, sitting on the bed, saying prayers, and talking briefly about the day and what’s coming up tomorrow. Children appreciate the expression of genuine interest in their schooling activities, social situations, and their life in general. When they are running in from an activity, let’s be sure to grab them and sit them on our laps for a few minutes to exchange information about our days or just cuddle even for a moment before they are off to a new adventure. Let’s be sure to make the time for them as much as possible. Lent seems to be a perfect season to strive a bit harder to make this happen.
Family meetings; held either weekly or from time to time, can offer each member the opportunity to express what’s on his or her mind. A prayer can begin your meeting with a chance for each member to offer a petition. This would also be an ideal time to discuss as a family what to do to help the less fortunate during Lent and throughout the year. There’s always the local soup kitchen; there may be elderly neighbors who could use a hand with shoveling snow in those parts still experiencing winter weather and for those of us who live in the colder areas. Perhaps one of the children can baby-sit for a single mother who needs a break. Depending on age, children can come up with some great ideas too.
Taking the time to praise our children is certainly essential. As mothers, we responsibly correct and teach our little ones. We must not forget that they also need our compliments, praise and attention. And, without a doubt, they need our unconditional love, our hugs and our kisses.
Lent is also a time to remember the role prayer plays in our lives. Above all, we need to make our life a prayer. Our encounter with God begins within our family, where He in His Divine providence has placed us to care for our families. We can recall Blessed Teresa’s beautiful words, “Love begins at home.”
The season of Lent can help us to work at becoming better mothers if we offer God the sacrifice of generously giving of our time, our love and our very selves to be present to our families. We are given forty days for extra nurturing and love, forty days in which we can serve our Lord, present in our little ones. Our Lord has told us, “Come, you whom my Father has blessed, take as your heritage the kingdom prepared for you since the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me to drink…” (Matt. 25:34-36). We can be comforted knowing we are serving our dear Lord in our family.
Enjoy your Lenten journey!
Copyright 2011 Donna-Marie Cooper O'Boyle
About the Author
Donna-Marie Cooper O'Boyle is a Catholic wife, mother, grandmother, international speaker, pilgrimage leader, award-winning journalist, and author of over 30 books. She knew Mother Teresa, participated in a Vatican congress, and St. John Paul II blessed her work on Mother Teresa. She writes for L'Osservatore Romano, National Catholic Register, Magnificat magazine, Our Sunday Visitor Newsweekly, Catholic World Report, and more. Visit DonnaCooperOBoyle.com.