Column: Lent, 40 chances to give your family the gift of your presence

Deacon Tony Zimmerman is the lead archdiocesan consultant for the office of marriage and family life.
Deacon Tony Zimmerman is the lead archdiocesan consultant for the office of marriage and family life.

by Deacon Tony Zimmerman

One of the gifts of the holy season of Lent is the days of fasting and abstinence.

Gift, you say? How are fasting and abstinence a gift? After all, we are giving up something!

Now, in the strict sense, this fourth precept of the church has to do with food. It is there to help us acquire mastery over our instincts and freedom of heart (Catechism of the Catholic Church, No. 2043).

But there is another form of fasting and abstinence, which we can add to our daily Lenten routine on top of that which is required by the church: fasting and abstaining from certain behaviors and activities in our families during these 40 days of Lent.

Give these a try:

1. Abstain from criticism. Criticism is a killer in relationships. It tears at the worth of the person we criticize. How well we know how the words of criti- cism sting and wound us. As spouses, we know how much it hurts coming from our husband or wife. As parents, just take a moment to recall how our beloved children wilt like water- starved flowers by such words often spoken in anger.

Go one step further than stopping the words of criticism: Replace them with words of affirmation.
As you rise each morning, stop and focus on one good quality you see in your spouse or children. Write it down and leave it as a surprise in their lunch box or briefcase, on the refrigerator or with a goodbye or hello hug. Here are 40 chances to say, “I love you.”

No spouse or child living with you? Call Mom, Dad, sister, brother or aunt.

2. Fast from television, the Internet, or the computer. Husbands and wives can use this “free” time to sit together and talk. If you don’t know what to talk about, just sit and listen to love songs (find “your” song) and recall all the memories these invoke.

Read a book with your children or grandchildren or just play “Go Fish.” You will make their day. Pray together their bedtime prayers and tuck them in. If they are teens, take each one out, maybe for pizza, and just be with them.

Now, remember at the beginning I said how this season of self-denial is a gift? Well, you will be giving the gift of your love and presence over these 40 days. I am willing to bet that you will discover a gift for yourself as well: more control of the loving use of your words and greater freedom from the material things that rob us of time for loved ones.

Don’t forget God in this effort. His grace will give you the way to persevere in your efforts.

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