Invitation to a Holy Lent

By The Rev. Amy P. Turner, Head Chaplain

Ash Wednesday is the beginning of the Season of Lent, a season of preparation and penitence. Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of 40 days in which we remember Jesus’ time in the wilderness and his time of preparation before he began his ministry in Galilee and its surrounding areas. The wilderness time was not only a period of self-sacrifice for Jesus, but a time to gain strength, confidence, and resolve for his mission through the testing of Satan and his time away from others. Jesus did this through fasting and time spent in prayer with God.

This year, Ash Wednesday falls on Valentine’s Day, and the date serves as a powerful reminder of God and Jesus’ love for all humanity and creation. We are reminded of this deep love especially in St. Paul’s first letter to the church in Corinth, often read at weddings. “Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends” (1 Corinthians 4-8).

Each Ash Wednesday the people of God are invited to a Holy Lent – an intentional time each year that provides us an invitation to look inward at our spiritual lives and spend more time in thought, prayer and reflection with God.

We can still see Lent as a time where we give up something we really enjoy, something we will try to do without: soda, chocolate, meat, social media, an extra hour of TV. Not to act holier than thou, as the Ash Wednesday gospel passage reminds, nor as an attempt to better or improve ourselves either — that’s what New Year’s resolutions are for. Instead, our acts of giving up or taking on something during Lent are meant for one purpose and one alone: to bring us closer to God, the one who gives us life and sustains us.

And God also reminds us that true fasting means more than focusing on ourselves as individuals, it also means putting ourselves out there to help those in the world in need. God is interested not only in our individual change, but in helping us bring about the Kingdom of God here on Earth. Our individual acts and practices can be useful for us, but we are encouraged to think beyond ourselves – to think about others, i.e. all of God’s people in the world. How can our individual practices look beyond our small piece of the world? On Ash Wednesday, when our faces are marked by ashes, we have a visible sign that reminds of the brokenness and messiness of the world. It is not clean and sanitized, and unlike the ashes on our foreheads, the messiness cannot be easily wiped away with a wet paper towel after the service.

During Lent, we can take some intentional time and seek to grow closer to God. In growing closer to God, we grow in our understanding of what God has called us to do, how God has called us to live. We grow in awareness of our purpose, our calling and our ministry as God’s people, and how we can best live it out as beloved and blessed sons and daughters here.

I encourage and invite each of you to a prayer-filled and Holy Lent. I hope and pray you grow deeper in your knowledge of God’s love over the next 40 days.

Below are some online resources to help engage yourself and your children during Lent:

Daily Episcopal Relief and Development Lenten Meditations
Reflections are from faith leaders from across the Anglican Communion. The reflections focus on children and explore how children inform our spirituality and what we can learn from their spiritual lives. Go to the link below to sign up for daily emails.

Weekly Ecumenical Reflections
Short reflections and prayers for each week.

Lent Madness
A fun, engaging way for people to learn about the men and women comprising the Church’s Calendar of Saints. Thirty-two saints are pitted in a tournament bracket, and the public is encouraged to vote each day to see who advances to get the Golden Halo.

Praying in Color through Lent
Prayers do not always have to be through words, but can include drawings, doodles, and color. Here are four PDF templates that can be printed out and used throughout Lent. Ideas for how to use the prayer calendars are included in the link.

Creating a Lenten Prayer Space at Home
Lent is a great time to incorporate more intentional family prayer time at home. The author has some great ideas of how to use simple items to help children journey through Lent.

Navigating Anxiety in Teens

By Kari Ramos, Director of School Counseling

“Psychology Today” recently published the following article written by Amy Morin titled, “10 Reasons American Teenagers Are More Anxious Than Ever”. I wanted to share this article as I found it to be clearly written, extremely insightful, and right on target.

Morin’s article is written in response to the “New York Times” article by Benoit Denizet-Lewis that was published last month called, “Why Are More American Teens Than Ever Suffering From Severe Anxiety?”  Both authors refer to the emerging data in support of what we counselors and educators have been experiencing for years now – the rise in mental health challenges among the teenage population.

The articles both identify what we all know is true about the pressure that is placed on children.

Teenagers are feeling both external and internal pressure to perform and to juggle more and more activities. Some find this pressure crippling and essentially freeze, not able to do any of the tasks that are required of them. Others become obsessed with the process of taking on more and more, almost addicted to the positive feedback that they receive for a job well done. Many end up caught in between the two extremes; bouncing back and forth, lacking the skills to find a healthy balance for themselves. These articles are clear indicators to us as educators and as parents that we have reached a critical point in which we must find ways to make meaningful changes to improve our children’s outcomes.

Follows are three tips to help parents support their students:

  • If you listen, they will talk. Active listening is not easy for parents because we are often in a rush, distracted, or we jump to conclusions as to where the conversation is headed. Active listening requires time, attentiveness, and patience. It requires us to allow our children to express things that we may not agree with or want to hear. It is human nature to try to fix their concerns, or to dismiss them entirely because they are unrealistic. When you are actively listening, resist the urge to give your opinion or to make judgements about what you are hearing. Focus on the feeling behind what they are telling you. For example, a validating statement might be “…I can only imagine how frustrated that made you feel.” When children feel understood, there is an immediate improvement in their outlook. This holds true for adults as well.
  • Acknowledge your child’s struggles, pressures, and fears. Resist the urge to judge or to dismiss their feelings. Accept that while you may not understand or agree with them, they are very real for your child. Remember that it is their experience, not yours. Doing so makes it is easier to accept their perspective. Always seek to understand.
  • Look for opportunities to model the behaviors that you want to see in your child and teach them along the way. The current population of teenagers has not had to endure boredom, emotional discomfort, or pain in the same ways that the generations before them have had to, thus they are skill-deficient. Now is the perfect time to model healthy coping skills for your child. As you are doing so, talk to them about what you are doing and why. They may not employ the same skills that work for you, but through this exchange of knowledge and wisdom, you are showing your child that a) life is not easy; even for adults, b) you have the power to control your emotional response to life’s twists and turns, and most importantly c) resiliency is a skill that you value and are able to teach.


Preparing Our Hearts for Advent

By Rev. Amy P. Turner, Head Chaplain

Advent begins this year on Sunday, Dec. 3. Advent is the church season that ends with Jesus’ joyous arrival on Christmas.

It is about preparing – preparing yourself for the arrival of Jesus. Whenever we prepare for the arrival of a guest, there is work we do around the house in order to make their room ready for them. If you do not have a designated guest room, then you will need to clean out the room, clean up any clutter, and move things around. You vacuum, dust, and clean the bathroom. You get clean sheets out to make the bed, and set out clean towels in the bathroom. Sometimes we have to run to the grocery store to get either extra food or special food for meals. The work of preparing for a guest is not necessarily a quick process, not something that can be done in a few minutes, but it takes a bit of time and some thoughtfulness, making sure to plan and accommodate for your guests’ needs and preferences.

Preparing for Advent is a similar process. Each year we walk through the four weeks of Advent knowing the baby Jesus will soon be coming, but we cannot welcome him into our hearts and homes if we have not taken the time to prepare a room for him. We have four weeks to intentionally clean up our hearts and lives, to be reminded of the importance of the task. It cannot happen overnight. The birth of Jesus is a holy mystery that requires time spent over four weeks to prepare and begin to enter fully into the joy and excitement of what is coming.

Advent gives us four weeks of intentional time to prepare ourselves, our hearts, our minds, our souls, and our bodies for Jesus’ arrival – to prepare ourselves for the arrival of the best guest we can have visit us – Jesus. To take time to clean out the clutter in the rooms of our lives, lay out clean sheets for him to spend time in our hearts and minds, and invite him to stop, sit down, catch up on everything happening in our lives – the sadnesses that weigh down our souls and hearts, and the joys that lighten our moods and bring happiness to our lives.

I invite each of you to spend time this Advent preparing for Jesus’ arrival. Below are some suggestions:

  1. #AdventWord#AdventWord is the world’s first crowd-sourced global Advent Calendar that asks Christians to pray over a word and meditation and respond with an image on Facebook or Twitter or Instagram.
  1. “Advent in full color” bookletBooklet with weekly readings, mediations, prayers, and practices for individuals and families for each of the four weeks of Advent including designs to color on each page. Booklets can be picked up at Upper School office.
  1. Advent Paper ChainsCreate paper chains using the digital downloads that count down to Christmas. Each day the family removes a piece of the chain and use the scripture for family devotions and the theme as a focus for prayer. There are two versions: Advent Chains and Names of Jesus Chain.
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