I’m refreshed by the simple beauty that surrounds me in church during a Lenten evening service. The soft glow of the candlelight illuminates the icons and the flowers in front of them, and the soft light surrounded by darkness soothes my overstimulated eyes. I stand quietly while the soft chanting of scriptures gradually brings peace to my harried thoughts. The scent of incense hangs in the air, reminding me of prayers floating to heaven. If I’m quiet and still, I can almost feel the presence of the communion of saints around me. The feeling inside the church is so different from the outside world; it’s like a tiny peek into heaven.
How do we bring the beauty of almost heaven into our homes? Lent gives us an opportunity to practice transforming our marriages, our families, and our homes. Our society has an abundance of choices, opportunities and luxuries available for ordinary people that the kings of previous generations might envy. For forty days, we set some of those things aside to choose simplicity and beauty results.
Lent is a great time for spending time with people. So often we think there needs to be an activity or entertainment when we get together with friends, but really just talking over a cup of tea or coffee is a great way to spend time together. When I walk my dog in my neighborhood at night, I see the glowing lights of the TV’s on in almost everyone’s home. In Lent, try replacing the flickering TV with the glow of laughing faces having fun playing a board game, reading or creating something. It’s not just taking away electronic entertainment that brings beauty; it’s using your own creativity to spend that time in a more lovely way.
Fasting is meant to bring harmony, not stress into the home. The heart of fasting is not about nervously reading the long lists of ingredients (oh please don’t let there be real butter!), it’s more about being able to choose to refrain from something the body wants and to be thankful for what we do have. Fasting gives us a way to practice saying no and learning that with God’s grace we can restrain ourselves and find joy in leaning on Him. There are many other times in our lives when the issue will be far more important than what we eat, but if we begin to master our diets, it may help us deal with temptations that have graver consequences. Fasting is meant to bring beauty into our lives by helping develop simplicity, gratitude and self-control.
Seeing the people around you with the eyes of Christ is a lifelong challenge, but Lent is the perfect time to practice it. Saying the prayer of Saint Ephraim each day is a way to be mindful of this. If in Lent we can start to see our own sins and work on those, it will help bring beauty into our surroundings. This Lent, take a few minutes and consider how you can better serve someone in your life. Is there a solvable problem that crops up over and over again in a relationship that you can work on? Is there a task you’ve been avoiding that you could take care of? Often, things that hang over us are easier than we expect to do and taking care of one of those ongoing issues brings peace to us, especially if we pray and ask for God’s will beforehand.
Bringing the beauty of church to your home is a practical way to grow the beauty inside our souls. As we grow more and more like Christ, the sorrows of this world, the disappointments and hardships we face, the hurts and challenges that surround us, all of these things can be met with peace within us. Our life here is meant to prepare us for heaven and we experience glimpses of that even now. Be mindful about creative peace and joy during this Lent and it will last long past Pascha.
Practical Suggestions for bringing more beauty into your life during Lent:
- Choose a spiritual book to read either by yourself or with others. Our family’s parish, St. John the Wonderworker, chose The Lives of Everyday Saints this Lent. It has short chapters so although it’s a long book, you can spread it out. Even my eleven year old has enjoyed some of the chapters. This is the book: http://www.pravoslavie.ru/english/56550.htm It’s available on amazon. Your parish may have chosen some other book or may be offering special study programs during lent, find out what it is and get involved.
- Struggling with fasting? Did my comments about making it beautiful make you want to smack me with something? Approach fasting with simplicity and of course with the guidance of your spiritual father. I make lots of varieties of these categories of fasting dinners: soups, pastas, rice and beans, potatoes with veggies, salads and ethnic foods. Here is a link to a site with lots of fasting recipes: http://www.lenten-season.com/index.php
- Turn the TV and computers off or restrict their use for your kids. My boys (11 and 14) have made a fort in the woods out of discarded plastic and sticks. Last summer, they created costumes out of those big paper leaf bags. Kids often experience a lull of boredom before they get creative. Expect that lull and don’t let them wear you down if they complain about not having TV/computers, after all if you’ve said no to that donut you can surely say no to your kids! Here are sites with inspiration for family fun: http://sprinkledwthjoy.wordpress.com/ http://traininghappyhearts.blogspot.com/2011/03/simple-do-able-lenten-plan.html http://orthodoxeducation.blogspot.com/2011/02/icon-family-tree.html
- Think of a way to bring physical beauty into your environment: refresh your garden, tidy your kitchen, change out those tired pillows on your couch, make your bedroom a peaceful haven. Check out Paula’s article on Sacred Space: http://www.familylifeministry.atlanta.goarch.org/sacred-space/
- During the quiet times of Lent, re-evaluate your life. What are your dreams? Pray about your goals and dreams. The best goal is growing closer to God as we journey to heaven (theosis), but there are ways for you to nurture and use the gifts that God has given you and bring joy to those around you. It’s valuable to have an intentional plan. Check out Michael Hyatt’s site for suggestions on this: http://michaelhyatt.com/life-plan