The spiritual practice of helping is quite a challenge. This last week, instead of "limiting" something in your life in a fasting way, this is a chance to add something. Maybe it's a bit of fasting from our own desires.
A few ideas:
1.) Based on one of our 5 prior weeks (food, possessions, media, money and stress) decide as a family how to help out someone else in each of these five areas. This is also a challenge to see how creative you can be together.
2.) Pick one person in your family this week to help out in unexpected ways. Is there a way to plan this without people knowing who is helping them this week (like a silent "Santa")? Then you can tell each other on Easter who you were helping if they hadn't figured it out earlier. Should also show you how hard it is to be helpful without people knowing you are helping them.
3.) Thank people in your life who have helped you in memorable ways, and/or who are helping you now. Part of helping is knowing the needs of others, but also knowing how you need help, and being aware of all the helpful people in your life.
This week consider how much stress is (or is not) part of your daily and weekly life. After 4 weeks of Food, Possessions, Media and Money, do any of these contribute to stress or serve as a way to cope with stress and pain? As a Spiritual Practice, do we regularly practice healthy habits of dealing with stress and preparing for the normal stress that happens as we live life?
As a household here are a few options:
1.) Consider when you are most stressed during the week, and how you can help each other deal with stress. It might be a regular part of the week (such as Thursday night), or a regular event in your life (such as big meetings at work, or big projects due at school).
2.) Try using prayer as a valuable way to deal with stress. Take a moment to simply be quiet. Or simply take a moment to breath long and deep at some point in the evening together as a family.
3.) Near the end of the week, take a moment to talk about your most stressful moment and how you coped and got through it. Consider how to be prepared for the next stressful moment in your life.
4.) Take one day this week and do not work. Define what Sabbath means for your household together. Does it mean removing yourself from activities and work? Does it include preparing your house for the week? Does it include spending time with people in your neighborhood or the church?
If you have any good ideas or conversations, please email me/Tory :-). Maybe even a Focus Article for the future?
This week we consider how we use the resource that too often can determine all other resources in our lives. Instead of bartering for goods and services within our community and with our neighbors, people have been using forms of money for centuries. Although this can be helpful, it can also have it's challenges. This week is simply an opportunity to name and realize our relationship with money. Are there ways we can be more intentional, relational, and joyful about money? Too often money is used with unintended effects, breaks down relationships, and becomes stressful. How can we practice better habits and intentions with our family?
A few options to consider for the week:
1.) Look up the weekly allowance/income of someone from another country. Consider what you could change this week to get an understanding of how others live. (Usually works better over a month. You can also look up what our government considers to be the Poverty line.)
2.) Give up "casual" spending this week. No additional toys, games, videos, snacks, treats, or clothing - for only a week. Take notice of all the times you usually buy things and why you do (personally, coffee shops are my "vice" that support my coffee habit, as well as thrift stores where I often buy too much clothing).
3.) Share your money at least once this week, intentionally. Have you ever paid for someone's meal behind you? One way is to simply leave a certain amount with the cashier that can be applied to the next bill(s). How about treating a friend, and sharing how much they mean in your life? What else could you do with your money to give thanks for the people in your life? What are ways you and your household have done this in the past? What charities and faith groups do you support intentionally? What determines how much money (and time) you give to fostering community and relationships in your life?
4.) Consider only using cash this week. Does feeling and counting money change how we use it compared to shopping online and with credit cards?
5.) For other ideas, google videos and information with Everence, Mennonite Central Committee, iDE and MEDA.
This week consider your screen time and interaction with Media. As North Americans, we typically have access to digital devices, TV, entertainment, cell phones, tablets, computers, and an endless supply of people to contact, things to read, and things to watch. This week consider being intentional about how you interact with media. Are you just a consumer, or are you a conscious consumer aware of media and technology's impact on your life and your relationships? As a church and as a society are we aware of how we are informed and/or transformed by the digital and virtual? A few possibilities for a Lenten practice this week:
1.) Some households do a weekly screen-less evening or house. Choose a night this week where cell phones are completely off, TVs and computers are turned off, and wifi and cable are not used. If work and homework need these devices, consider a different way to do work and homework ahead of time, or how to do this day fast a different way in your life.
2.) Choose to read books or other activities instead of screen time for entertainment.
3.) Give up facebook and other social media for the week. (When I/Tory was on sabbatical, I simply changed my profile to a sign that noted I would not respond for a certain amount of time.)
4.) If you don't do this already, make meal times a media/digital fast that do not include cell phones, TVs or any screens. Since this is titled a "media" fast, consider giving up newspapers, magazines and books as well.
*At the end of the week, take note of ways that you and your household (and work/school/peers/church) can be healthier with our media and technology. Feel free to pass on notes for the Menno Focus to Pastor Vern, or simply comment right here below this blog post for others to read and wrestle with :-).
This week take into consideration how many things you have in your life. Most Americans have access to a lot of things at work, school, and in the community/neighborhood. For this week we'll focus on home life and our personal possessions that we carry with us throughout the day.
1.) Choose a bag or backpack for the week, and only touch/use what you put in the bag at the beginning of the week. This might include toys, pens, pencils, phone, charger, laptop, water-bottle, and lunch box. Should this include the TV and other "non-essential" appliances? See if you can identify things in your house that you have too many extras for, or that you will probably never use. Why do you think you still have these items? Is there a good enough reason to still keep them?
2.) Select one item a day to donate in a box at the end of the week. How about 2 items, or three items? How about one bag of stuff a day?
3.) Another side of possessions is how many "short-term" possessions we use daily and weekly. Can your family limit itself to one bag of garbage this week? Can you exist for one week without any garbage created at home? How much of your food is packaged in soon-to-be trash? How much stuff do you use and buy that is packaged in soon-to-be trash?
4.) Go on a spending fast and do not buy anything for a week. Can you also include food in this challenge and make do with whatever you bought at the beginning of the week - even if you forgot an ingredient or ran out of one?
Historically, food has been the primary focus of fasting, especially during Lent. To start our Lenten Practices, determine what kind of food fast you are up for. Here's a few options:
1.) Fast one meal a day (be clear on the time frame involved so that "snacks" do not simply take the place of a meal).
2.) Limit your calories per day, or for one daily meal.
3.) Limit your diet, such as only eating fruit and vegetables, or skipping all desserts and junk food.
4.) Eat a diet similar to those who find themselves in refugee situations or a time of famine (some people choose to also give the money they would have spent on more expensive food to MCC). This often involves rice, beans and potatoes. One church I/Tory belonged to would suggest one whole week of rice in solidarity with those stricken by food shortages and insufficient nutrition.
5.) Live off of the food stamp allowance in the U.S.
Remember, the goal is to be intentional in a practice that brings you closer to God. In regards to food, many Christians have used the time used to prepare and eat meals to pray. Others have used the feeling of hunger to remind them to focus on God's voice in their life.
Share how this experience is going for your family in the comments below. What have you learned about yourself and your relationship with God?
For an extra step, volunteer at, or donate to, your local food bank.
Lent officially begins with Ash Wednesday on Feb. 18th this year. This next week take some time, preferably with your household and/or a close friend and think about intentionally observing and participating in Lent this year. Historically, this season before Easter Sunday has been observed in a variety of ways.
Catholics observe Lent by fasting from meat on Ash Wednesday and all Fridays.
Orthodox observe Lent by fasting from all food for three days the first week, and then they abstain from meat, animal products, fish, olive oil and wine until Easter.
Protestants do not necessarily have standardized historic practices for Lent, but many have continued this ancient Christian practice in their own way.
Other faiths also have fasting practices including the notable Muslim fast of Ramadan as well as Hindu and Buddhist practices.
This year for our Mennonite-Anabaptist identity and heritage, we will focus on areas of our life beyond the sustenance of food. Food is an integral part of life, but there are also other parts of our life that give us sustenance while also filling up our soul and life. This year we are encouraging our JYF and all Peace School families to form a practice for each week around food, clothing, possessions, media, money and stress. You can plan out all your practices ahead of time, or simply take it week by week. However, with most goals and new habits (even short term), the odds of actually completing and following through are higher the more you prepare. Here are a few steps to consider:
1.) Read the blog post for each week, and as a family choose one of the options, or better yet, create your own that speaks to your life.
2.) In creating your fast for the week, take some time to explore the subject and learn from each other and from others about their best practices throughout the year. Learn something new about yourself and your family.
3.) After you finish each weekly fast, take time to name how difficult or easy the fast was, and why (not). Furthermore, take a few minutes to ask yourselves if you'd like to consider making any changes in this area for another month, or during the rest of the year.
4.) Finally, name if you felt closer to God and the ways of Jesus this week. If you did feel closer to God, are you able to name why?
5.) Use the "comments" feature under each weekly Blog to share a few sentences about your family's experience.