Help your kids to be a little ray of sunshine in a dark world

By  Dorothy Pilarski
  • March 16, 2011
I often think of Lent as a spiritual boot camp, a 40-day period to make a deliberate daily attempt to get closer to God by eliminating the distractions that are a barrier to forming a better relationship with Him.

As a mother, Lent is also a time when, in addition to rededicating my own spirituality, I do my utmost to get the entire family to put their spiritual lives on the front burner.

So this year the family began Ash Wednesday at 8 a.m. Mass. We ended the evening with a family rosary. In between I had a 10-minute conversation with my teenagers at the kitchen table while my husband was out of town on business.

I started by asking the kids if they knew what the Church expected of Catholics during the holy season of Lent. They blurted: “Give something up!” That reply prompted a short motherly dissertation about the three pillars of Lent: prayer, fasting and almsgiving. It was quite a lively talk. Among some grumbling, rolling eyes and smart remarks, I saw a few glimmers in their eyes. On some level, I was getting through.

Over the years, I have often fought back laughter during these conversations. I will never forget the time my daughter, smiling, said, “Well, my sacrifice is going to be going to school. I would prefer not to go, but I will continue to go. I will do it as a sacrifice.” Then there was the year my son offered to give up a detested vegetable as well as salmon (my son hates salmon).

These annual Lenten conversations have created many fond memories that often remind me of my own childhood understanding of Lent. For instance, as a teenager my girlfriends and I considered Lent a time to give up sweets so we could all lose a little weight. When I recall those days it’s clear now that each season of Lent was uniquely different but consistently important.

I understand now the serious obligation of being both the temporal and spiritual mother to my children. It is my job to see that each year my children will grow a little wiser and come to see Lent as a period of reconciliation and conversion. Lent is a time to turn to God and say: “Hey God I need You. Show me Lord what you want me to do to get closer to You.” That’s what I try to teach my  children — the way to get closer to God is to speak to Him.

Like many moms, I use the side of my fridge as a family billboard. Anyone who has visited my house has seen the photographs, artwork, letters, postcards and notes that cover the fridge, from top to bottom. Among many uses, fridge postings can be wonderful teaching tools and a great way to share inspirational messages with your family.

When the kids were smaller, I once plastered the fridge with a blue bristol board that displayed a big yellow sun. Then I taped a picture of Jesus on the sun. Each time during Lent that the children went to the Stations of the Cross, made a sacrifice, said some extra prayers, went to an extra Mass or gave away some of their toys, I cut out a yellow strip of paper and had them tape it onto the bristol board as if it were a ray of sunshine. I explained to them that the world can be quite dark at times and that Jesus needed us to use our hands, feet and prayers to bring light into the world. The  more good deeds we performed, the more light there would be on Easter morning.

The kids loved this activity; actually the entire family did. Whenever anyone visited our home they always asked about the Lenten collage on the fridge. It  inspired all of us.

I’m not sure why we stopped making our Lenten collage, but I think it’s time to clear off the side of the fridge again. Pope Benedict XVI, as he does each year, has written an inspirational letter to help us on our Lenten journey. It’s posted on the Vatican web site. Reading it has motivated me to head off to the dollar store and pick up a sheet of bristol board and some yellow paper. I want  to see the sun again.

(Pilarski, a professional speaker and consultant, can be reached at

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