Last year, I wanted our family to do something for Lent. But I didn’t want to give anything up, so we added something instead.
Having grown up Catholic, I have lots of hazy memories of Lenten fasts that either:
- I didn’t understand
- I failed to keep, or
- made me feel as though I was being punished
I know that is not what was intended, but that’s what I ended up with anyway. Today, I think I have a better appreciation of the benefits of a fast, but I am still reluctant to embark on one. Maybe that’s just the way I am, or maybe that’s just today. Maybe I’ll change in the future.
Anyway, I had heard of the idea of adding something to your life — adding a good habit or spiritually nurturing practice — instead of giving something up for Lent, so last year I thought we’d give it a try as a whole family.
What I came up with was the Lenten Tree.
The Lenten Tree: How to Do It
I started off by sketching an outline of a bare tree trunk on a big sheet of paper. On the tree trunk, I pasted a passage of Scripture that our family planned to memorize together over Lent. We chose 1 Corinthians 13:4-7, which speaks of the qualities of love. We had studied it recently in our church’s Moms Group, and it had stuck in my mind. I found myself longing for more of this kind of love as a parent, flowing out of myself. And I found myself longing to see it more in our children’s relationship with each other and with us. More love. It seemed like a good idea for Lent.
Click photo to enlarge.
Love is patient,
love is kind.
It does not envy,
it does not boast,
it is not proud.
It does not dishonor others,
it is not self-seeking,
it is not easily angered,
it keeps no record of wrongs.
Love does not delight in evil,
but rejoices with the truth.
It always protects,
always perseveres. (TNIV)
I divided the passage into six parts, intending for our family to memorize one part each week for the six weeks of Lent.
To encourage us in the journey, I cut out green paper leaves and often laid them on our plates at dinnertime. We would practice the memory verse together, and then discuss ways that love had been shown to us or ways that we had shown love to others that day. Then we would write that down on our leaf and paste the leaf on our tree before dessert. Pretty soon our tree got nice and full!
It wasn’t a perfect Lenten Tree. We didn’t do our leaves every day. We lost steam mid-way through with a vacation (yay!) and a week of illness (boo!). But even with our uneven practice, it was a good way to remember to grow in love, to be more like Jesus. I enjoyed watching the bare tree fill out just as the trees outdoors blossomed into an Easter-time fullness.
Our church is engaging in another practice for Lent this year, so we’re joining them in that. But I hope we return to the Lenten Tree again in the future, perhaps thinking about the fruits of the Spirit or Jesus as the true vine.
In the meantime, we’ll keep on growing in our hearts. And who knows? Maybe some year we’ll even give something up!