“Lent is not just a time for fasting and giving things up. It’s actually a time for God.”
Sixth-grader Lilly Borgmeyer shared one of the insights she gleaned from an interactive prayer service she and her teacher and classmates helped lead at Immaculate Conception School in Loose Creek.
The purpose was to put the school’s 114 students in a prayerful and purposeful frame of mind ahead of Lent, so they could observe the season well.
“We give things up because that’s what Jesus did when He was in the desert,” said sixth-grader Emma Stuecken.
“He did that for us,” she added.
Their teacher, Megan Markway, set out in early February to help her students approach Lent more intentionally this year by planning ahead.
During religion class one morning, she gathered them into prayer and began a gentle line of inquiry.
She asked why Lent is 40 days long.
Hands went up, and students told her about the time Jesus spent in the desert, fasting and fending-off temptation before entering His public ministry.
She asked what three things Catholics are called to pay special attention to throughout the days leading up to Easter.
Some told her about praying more.
Others talked about giving things up, such as food they like to eat, and cutting back on things they like to do.
Some spoke of the CRS Rice Bowl on their kitchen tables and of giving money to the poor.
Mrs. Markway taught them the word “almsgiving” and explained its biblical connection to praying and fasting.
“We matched their ideas with the words the Church uses to talk about them,” she said.
Based on what she and her students shared with each other that morning, Mrs. Markway helped them prepare a pre-Lenten prayer service for the whole school.
All together now
The morning of Feb. 8, the entire student body gathered in the school cafeteria.
Again, they prayed.
Again, Mrs. Markway asked questions.
Students young and old put their hands up to answer.
The sixth-graders held up signs to help Mrs. Markway illustrate words and concepts related to having a fruitful Lent.
“The kids in the primary grades gave answers like ‘prayer’ or ‘spending time with Jesus,’” she noted. “‘Almsgiving’ is the word that always trips them up. We had to teach them about the purpose of alms.”
She spoke of the need to be specific about their personal Lenten fasts and resolutions.
“Whatever you pick, you need to find a way for it to bring you closer to God,” she said.
She suggested giving up something that’s hard to let go of, “and whenever it gets really difficult for you, that’s when you bring God into it.”
“Ask Him to give you the strength you need for whenever you’re having a hard time,” she said.
They watched a short video of popular Catholic evangelizer Father Michael Schmitz, director of youth and young-adult ministry from the Diocese of Duluth, Minnesota.
The priest encouraged them to tell people who are close to them what they’re giving up for Lent, so they can help and encourage each other.
“He said to let those around you help you stay accountable and stay closer to God,” said Mrs. Markway. “We can be there to help each other. And maybe somebody will get some inspiration from your idea.”
Nearer to Thee
Lilly held up a sign that said “Almsgiving” during the prayer service.
A message that stuck with her is that giving something up out of love helps people get closer to God.
“I would like to be closer to Him,” she said.
She learned that from a prayer standpoint, setting aside just 15 minutes a day for prayer can make a big difference.
The avenues for sacrifice are wide and plentiful.
“You can give up something other than food,” she said. “You can give up TV or something like that.”
Emma helped read the petitions during the prayer service.
She learned about the importance of being intentional about her Lenten practices.
For instance, she hopes that if she spends less time on her phone during Lent, she’ll continue spending time on more important things after Lent is over.
She encouraged people her age to listen to what their teachers tell them about Lent and the practice of their faith.
“They know what they’re talking about,” she said.
Now and forever
Principal Anne Luebbert plans to give frequent reminders about Lenten practices and sacrifices throughout the season, so the students don’t lose track or forget.
Mrs. Markway said she hopes the students understand how powerful a sacrifice for God can be for getting closer to Him.
It’s something they can focus on during Lent and hopefully will continue throughout the year, she said.