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How to Observe Lent As A Special Needs Parent

Lent is fast approaching and if you’re the parent of a child with disabilities, it can feel like there’s nothing else you can tack on or give up without killing yourself. You might be thinking you’re too tired, too overwhelmed, and life is already too hard for you to even think about giving anything up for Lent. I get it, I’ve been there. For the first few years after my sons diagnosis, I was in survival mode and I felt like just keeping everyone alive during Lent was all I could manage. Some years will be like that, but if you’re wondering if there’s anyway you and your family could more fully participate in Lent, without doing a million and one crafts, there are some simple ways to enter into the season of Lent and still arrive at Easter spiritually refreshed.

What is Lent?

It’s a penitential season of the forty days leading up to Easter, not counting Sundays. Sundays in Lent, for Roman Catholics, are not fasting days and therefore are not counted in the forty days. Just like Jesus spent forty days in the desert fasting to prepare for his ministry, we are fasting to prepare for his coming resurrection so that the Easter feast is more fully appreciated.  The three main ways to enter into Lent are prayer, fasting and almsgiving. 

Lent for You

First, just pick one or two things. You don’t need to do every devotional, or go to every retreat or special Mass. Read the examples below and consider which one you can completely commit to this Lent.

Prayer

You don’t need to commit to all 15 mysteries of the rosary, just more that what you’re doing already. If prayer is sporadic, how about one morning offering a day. We need to remember about how much more God valued the gift from the widow who gave all she had, vs someone who has a lot giving 10 percent of their fortune (Mark 12: 41–44). Your single, short prayer, said devoutly is worth so much because it comes from so much spiritual sparsity.  As that one prayer becomes a habit, you may eventually be able to find you can add more. Pick a spiritual book, or audio book, and read it in short sections- meditate on each one. And it doesn’t need to be dense spiritual classic. Check out our book recommendations for ideas.

What vices can you give up? Worry, despair, anger, guilt- these things are holding you back, not only spiritually but from being the best parent you can be. Focus on rooting them out and concentrating on growing in the contrasting virtue. Like if you feel yourself worrying, think about how God has provided for your family in the past; you’ll want to focus on nurturing the virtue of hope or gratitude. This is something I write about at length in my book Better Than Ok: Finding Joy As A Special Needs Parent, if you want more details. 

Fasting

You might be in a home where meals and food are a constant battle or a stressful, precise routine. Don’t be motivated to give up more than you can, like coffee, because you see other parents doing the same. What would you miss, what small thing can you offer up that doesn’t interfere with your ability to care for your family? Maybe a smaller portion of your favorite dessert or meal. Maybe black coffee instead of with cream. Give up something small and know it matters. 

Almsgiving

Money might be tight. Look at how you can donate time, or donate items to Goodwill. Make a meal for someone you know. Maybe you’re at a point in your journey where you can help or mentor a younger family whose child was just diagnosed; give them the time, attention, and listening ear that you needed when you started on this journey. Spread awareness or fundraise for an important cause (maybe even Accepting the Gift)

Meet with a spiritual advisor or your parish priest if you need guidance on an appropriate Lenten sacrifice. They can help you discern if what you’re choosing to do is too little, or, too much.

Lent For Your Child

Explain Lent to your child in an age appropriate way and tell them what you’re giving up. Ask them to help you if they see you slip (Like pointing out you’re yelling if you gave up anger.) Ask if they’d like to prepare for Easter with a Lenten sacrifice. If your child has never participated in Lent before, start small and pick one, maybe two things tops. Help them to write it down and post it where they can see it. 

Lent As A Family

You might want to try a family sacrifice. Something we’ve always done since our kids were little was give up sweets. If your children are young, it might be easiest to give up one thing all together. Just try to hold yourself to a higher standard then your child. Getting treats out of the house makes it easy for everyone to “win” at Lent. Find a way to make it easy for your child to succeed.

And most importantly, don’t compare what you’re doing to other families. 

There are times when our lives will feel penitential (like a long inpatient hospital stay) and you can’t imagine adding to that. But if you’ve reached a place of stability and joy in your vocation, as I have, you can consider additional sacrifices. Simply being the caregiver of a child with disabilities does not mean your life is always one of sorrow and woe. If you still feel that way, than this would be the year to work on giving up sorrow and looking for joy. Again, if you need help, check out our video on the grieving process. 

So what are you, your child, or your family  thinking about giving up for Lent? Let me know in the comments below

This post is also available as a video.

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