A part-time stay-at-home father and licensed clinical social worker shares three fasts for Catholic parents that will bring abundant life to families this Lenten season.
Editor’s note: Jim Otremba, M.Div, M.S., LICSW is a licensed independent clinical social worker and, with his wife, author of The Daily Dozen of Catholic Parenting. He will be contributing to Peanut Butter & Grace on an occasional basis. For more about Jim and his ministry, see the end of this article.
by Jim Otremba
Once again we come to that liturgical season we call Lent, which is an old English word that means “springtime.” I pray that the Holy Spirit will lovingly lead all parents into the desert, just as the Spirit did with Jesus more than 2,000 years ago, and that this desert experience will bear great fruit in our daily family living.
When I lived in Jerusalem while finishing my master of divinity, we spent time desert camping and quickly discovered how wicked such terrain truly is: unbearably hot during the day, and unbelievably cold in the evening!
We also discovered an amazingly beautiful place. There are certain flowers and life forms that only grow in the desert, and Christ knew this. So during these sometimes long, dry Lenten days may we also open up our eyes to the beauty that surrounds us: More than 1 billion Catholics are all fasting, praying and giving of ourselves more during this springtime.
That thought helps me as a parent to know that I’m not doing this Lenten fast alone. Christ already has sanctified the desert, and the whole Church is fasting with me. As a licensed therapist who has worked with hundreds of families, I suggest three very specific types of fasting this Lenten season. Try them out, and I know it will bring abundant life to your family.
1. Fast from Self-criticism
I love being a Catholic for so many reasons. One reason is because we love baptism! We teach that this great sacrament of initiation creates a change within us. Before baptism, we are not adopted sons or daughters of God. After baptism, we are now adopted children of the king of kings! Further, we believe that baptism is an eternal sacrament, we can’t stop being a child of the king of kings! We can’t lose our baptism like we can lose our car keys. This is so true that the greatest pain of hell is that we now know who we are as children of God and can no longer do anything about it … it is too late. What does this have to do with self-criticism? Everything!
As Catholics, we believe we are fundamentally good through our baptism. Of course, it is up to us to live that goodness out, and when we sin we are not living out our identity. But, we are still good — baptism doesn’t fade. So when we self-criticize we are negatively talking about a son or daughter of God. We need to stop that! We are literally doing the enemy’s work when we self-criticize. You are a good child of God, and when you fast from self-criticism you can begin to see yourself through a new light — the light of the Gospel.
We also lower stress hormones in ourselves, and therefore in our children as well. If you have a hard time with self-criticism try this: Set your smart phone alarm to chime every 30 minutes, and when it goes off ask yourself, “How was my self-talk these last 30 minutes?” If it was garbage based and you criticized yourself, forgive yourself and start over. The goal is to have Gospel-based self-talk. Talk to yourself like you would a best friend. Try it, it is an awesome fast!
2. Fast from Unproductive Screen Time
Our relationships are hurting because of temporal infidelity caused by unproductive screen time. Anytime we get caught up in the black-hole, time-killing, mind-numbing experience that the internet (or screens) can create is unproductive screen time.
Maybe some questions will help to understand this more:
- Do you have screens in your bedroom?
- Do your kids ever “bother” you because you are on your cellphone, or some type of screen for too long and not paying attention to them?
- Do you or your spouse check an electronic device first thing in the morning (even before a morning offering or morning prayer)?
- Do you find yourself watching things on screens that you know Jesus would not watch?
- Do screens interfere with family meal time?
- Do you feel right now that you need this fast?
If you answered yes to any of those questions, it might be a good thing to pray about this type of fast — not in a shame-based way, but in a liberating way. Yes, we need screen time (I’m typing this blog on a screen right now). However, when we have too much unproductive screen time it will erode our relationships — and Jesus never wants that. Jesus is present fully to us in the Eucharist: body, blood, soul, and divinity, and he desires that we are present fully to each other in our daily life.
It can be very difficult, but remember there are more than 1 billion brothers and sisters doing this Lenten season with us. We are not alone!
Try to figure out how many minutes or hours you are currently spending in unproductive screen time. Then pray about what percentage of that you want to cut. During Lent, I suggest to cut that number by at least 50 percent and invest that time in prayer, reading Scripture, daily Mass, or being present to your loved ones and other wonderful life-giving activities. This type of fast will bless you and your family tremendously.
3. Fast from Unhealthy Tones and Volumes
This is one of those fasts that most parents need in our society. We tend to forget that when we yell or use tones with our children it increases stress hormones in our bodies — thereby ensuring more toxic behavior from both the parent and the child. This is not what the Lord desires.
If you wrestle with unhealthy tones or volumes with your children try this: Before you say anything to your children first take a nice deep breath and remind yourself that you are now talking to Christ. The Bible tells us point blank, “’Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me'” — that includes our children (Mt 25:40).
So when we parents choose to yell at our kids we are yelling at Christ. After the deep breath, and reminding yourself that truth, now tell yourself that whatever you say can be said gently. It may take awhile to get used to it, but I know it will bring abundant living in your family!
May God bless our journey into this Lenten season with fasting from self-criticism, unproductive screen time, and unhealthy tones and volumes.