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Talking Lent in teens’ language

It’s not until something goes wrong or breaks that we realise how much we miss it. This week everything in our house seemed to be giving up the ghost: the heating packed in with a worst case scenario of some sort of expansion tank having burst; we failed our NCT and, disaster of all disasters – the broadband mysteriously stopped operating as well. 

Of course the weather had also taken a turn for the worst and any journey outside the one room we were keeping warm was decidedly chilly. It wasn’t the icy atmosphere that forced my 17-year-old daughter to pack up and abandon ship. She could have coped with us all huddled around a plug-in heater snuggled in blankets and winter woollies, but surviving without broadband was a step too far. 

So, off she went to stay with my son and daughter-in-law to enjoy their warmth and broadband. 

Left with three children and no internet access, it became obvious that so many aspects of people’s lives are connected to how connected they are to what’s going on online. It’s not only young people. I have to admit that I spend a substantial amount of time every day on the internet. 

Contact

Some of the time is well spent; it’s a great way to keep in contact with friends and family, post positive comments on important issues and a vital modern way to evangelise. That’s the theory anyway! If I’m perfectly honest, I have to admit that it’s also a way to waste endless hours: scrolling down through posts, being dragged into pointless discussions or taking part in the most ridiculous quizzes. 

Who really needs to know what household appliance represents their personality? 

With Lent approaching, my eldest daughter came up with the bright idea of having one internet-free day a week. 

I’ve spoken at length about how children spend too much time on devices, how parents need to monitor children’s internet usage and how important it is to lead by example. 

However, when a day without devices was suggested, I wasn’t overly enthusiastic. Maybe I’d just stick to giving up chocolate and cutting down on my coffee intake. Who knows what I could miss if I was offline for a whole 24 hours. 

My reluctance to embrace something too difficult really made me focus on what Lent is all about. It’s not just a secular season that provides an opportunity to quit smoking or to kick start a new health regime. It’s really about looking at our lives under the microscope and honestly facing up to how much we focus on our relationship with God. What really matters in our lives? As the hymn says “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be”. 

I heard a great homily recently given by a Dominican priest where he got to the heart of what Lent should be and it’s not about patting ourselves on the back for shedding a few pounds but what we should be trying to achieve is a journey towards a better relationship with the God who loves each one of us. 

Trying to put this into practice and coming up with some unique new ideas to make our Lenten efforts more fruitful might require a few helpful suggestions and resources. 

Safe options

I found a fantastic list on LifeTeen.com of ‘102 Things You Should Really Give Up For Lent’ which contains plenty of novel ideas. 

The list is geared to teenagers but any age could dip into it. It moves away from the usual safe options and gets more into changes that are more challenging and life-changing and speaks in a language that young people can identify with. 

I loved the creativity behind the list. Some ideas focused on lifestyle changes like giving up Instagram filters or “using emojis to avoid talking about your true feeling”. I hadn’t heard those ones before. 

Other suggestions are designed to encourage teenagers to stretch themselves spiritually and move outside their comfort zones. Are they avoiding going to Confession because it’s scary or failing to invite friends to faith-based events? Do they refuse to see God in their family members, even if they find them annoying at times? Is a busy schedule used as an excuse not to take up a fuller devotion to all things spiritual like saying the Rosary, going to daily Mass more often or praying more? 

The teen’s list also had new approaches to building virtue. To combat greed during Lent and think of one’s poorer neighbours, there’s a suggestion that spending be confined to essentials only or that a young person could volunteer in a soup kitchen for Lent. 

I loved the idea of giving something away during every day of Lent and this is not confined to material things, but also the giving of our time and support. 

I think one of the best Lenten efforts could involve No.102 on the list: “Hiding your faith from those around you. It’s Lent. Share what God is doing in your life these 40 days.” 

A US bishop I admire, Bishop Frank Caggiano, said that Lent is a time of denying ourselves but also of reaching out to do something for our neighbour. If parents and children pray more, have more faith and show more love and charity this Lent, a true spiritual transformation will occur that goes beyond refusing that extra few chocolates.