Liturgical Seasons of Family Life

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Lenten seasons come and go, and some are so much more impressive than others.

Last year, Lent rolled around and I found myself lumbering about, living life as a large, tired woman who could barely bend down to put on her own socks. I was in the final weeks of what had been a very good pregnancy, due in large part to my wit and intellect. Early on I had decided to pace myself and that approach had served me well.

So in those weeks before Ash Wednesday last year, as Paul and I discussed our plans for the Lenten season, I was working hard to keep it real. Some of the little luxuries we try to avoid during Lent — things like ice cream and television and going out to eat — well giving up these things was simply out of the question.

But the more we discussed it, and as we prayerfully considered how we could best fast during the 40 days of Lent, I had a crazy thought.

I would give up chocolate.

I wanted Jesus to know, in the midst of my little suffering of these final weeks of pregnancy, that I still wanted to make a sacrifice of love for him. Giving up this one small thing just wan’t that epic, was it?

Except, as it turns out, it totally was. It was insanely epic, as a matter of fact.

My plan lasted three days before I realized (and everyone in my life concurred) that I just needed to have chocolate. Yes, I could live without it. And it was good and virtuous to show Jesus my love. But the best plan for me as a woman in my delicate condition was to focus on getting through those last few weeks with a happy heart.

So I threw off the sack-cloth of chocolate-free living and focused instead on caring for my unborn baby by not being totally stressed out. I opted to pray more and complain less, and to be a joy-filled mother to my boys.

A year later, I laugh at how emotional the chocolate issue made me. This year, however, I am no longer that nine-month-pregnant woman and frankly, I am in no position to judge her.

There was a time, years ago, when my motto for Lenten sacrifices was “shoot the moon!” I have had seasons, beautiful, glorious liturgical seasons when I could not decide which of my little luxuries I would miss the most, so I opted to fast from all of them.

One year in college, my roommates and I gave up bread, and meat and listening to the radio. We also attended daily Mass. Somehow, our 18-year-old selves had the stamina and wherewithal to be Capuchin monks (who happened to be college freshmen).

Most years are somewhere in between these two extremes. Since I’ve become a wife and mother, the details of my life have a great effect on what I am able to tackle each Lenten season. There are years when family prayer flourishes in our home, when I clearly understand the ways I have been challenged and grown.

And then there are those dry seasons when I don’t understand or recognize the fruit until later. Some days and weeks, I am doing good to put one foot in front of the other. There are times when I struggle because I don’t recognize any growth in my life beyond getting through another day.

But there is always growing, even if we don’t see the fruit right away. In family life there are seasons when we can actually sense ourselves growing in virtue — seemingly on an hourly basis! And there are also plenty of winters, times when we can almost lose sight of the big picture because we are working so hard to simply care for basic needs.

But we grow in all these seasons, the lush and the arid. We look forward with great expectation, while also gleaning from this moment everything that God would have for us.

The liturgical seasons of motherhood — of family life — pose plenty of challenges, opportunities for growth, the chance to stretch and do better. Sometimes the growth is merely the act of getting through.

This column originally appeared in The Southern Cross.




  1. Melanie B says:

    I'm giving up chocolate this Lent; but only because I just had the baby. When I was pregnant? No @*%$# way! Seriously, I think it could do permanent damage to deny a pregnant woman chocolate. I'd hate to injure the baby.

  2. Michelle says:

    Thanks for the reminder to keep it real and know our limitations. We have to keep things in perspective. As a priest once told us: Doing God's will means choosing to make the most loving choice. If that means not not giving up the flavored treat while pregnant then so be it. Happy St Patrick's Day to you and your lively brood!

  3. wisdomandpeace says:

    Very sweet anecdote about pregnancies and Lent. I also tend to be a little easier on myself during Lent if I'm pregnant or exclusively breastfeeding–the baby needs those calories! Personally, though, giving up chocolate during pregnancy would be a cakewalk for me compared to giving it up in the newborn period–I find that time so much more stressful and exhausting!

  4. I love this! I'm actually due with baby #3 on Easter Sunday, so this whole Lent thing is REALLY taking its toll. I'm kinda banking my sacrifice on the fact I'll probably be pushing out a baby on Good Friday. God has a sense of humor.

    I even blogged about this subject today, just because it's so stinkin' hard to sacrifice MORE when you're huge and pregnant and can't be trusted with anything other than keeping the kids fed and alive.

  5. Anonymous says:

    Thank you, Rachel. You echo the thoughts in my own heart, but give them much more eloquence. My mother who has Alzheimers Disease recently moved to an assisted living facility near us and between caring for her needs and those of my own seven children (same ages as yours with one additional thrown in the mix), I'm thinking the chocolate needs to stay this Lent. Better a happy caretaker than a grumpy one!

  6. Motherhood is like Lent-full of sacrifices. Some years motherhood itself is enough. This year I'm enjoying a little more time to actually pray, fast, and give. Who knows what next year has in store. Thanks for writing about this-I think sometimes we ladies are too hard on ourselves.

  7. Thanks for this column!

    I'm actually in the same boat you were. My baby is due May 4th (though I think she may make her appearance before Easter), and while I started out Lent with high expectations for myself, I've realized the best thing I can do is take care of myself and use this time to grow closer to the Lord and to my vocation. And really, I feel like I'm getting a LOT more out of this Lenten season because that's my focus.

  8. Thank you for the reminder that sometimes it's just getting through motherhood that is the sacrifice. Several times alerady this Lent I have thought, wow, I'm not doing anything significant this year, and it can be discouraging. But right now with three kids under the age of 4, it is simply getting through the day sometimes. Thanks for the encouragement!

  9. Thank you for this- it's encouraging to read one's own struggles being shared by others! Sleepless nights with a nursing baby can be quite sufficient Lenten opportunities for uniting with our Lord and His suffering (and the following exhausting day for that matter). I used to get agitated when nursing-related exhaustion, pregnancy, and/or childcare would prevent me from participating in Church life (haven't been to Ash Wednesday Mass in three years…) but you're right: there's graces for the taking in peacefully accepting crosses that seem contradictory. Thanks again!

  10. Thanks for the reminder that we try our best. I hadn't given anything up, and then I beat myself up over that, so it made me feel worse. This year, it's been the daily effort to not necessarily give things up but to do extra. Or like today, no snacks and only healthy snacks for the kids – even though they saw the jelly beans and really wanted those. Beating yourself up over it just drives that wedge in further and takes you away from Him. It's realizing that you are forgiven and just start over the next day to try and do more and do better.

  11. Michelle says:
  12. Unsinkable Kristen says:

    I am so thankful for this today. I am in a "Basic Needs" season and have probably been a little too harsh on myself for the extras I've been trying to do, and a little too lenient on the attitude I've been showing.

    I am so very grateful for this reminder to pace myself and have a happy, complaint-free heart 🙂