Lenten Nails: A Reflection Exercise for Lent

About this article

This two-part reflection exercise allows the young teens to evaluate their behaviors and attitudes and admit their faults, throughout Lent. The exercise is introduced at the beginning of Lent and concludes before Easter.

OVERVIEW

This two-part reflection exercise allows the young teens to evaluate their behaviors and attitudes and admit their faults, throughout Lent. The exercise is introduced at the beginning of Lent and concludes before Easter.

Suggested Time: Approximately 10 minutes for part A; about 15 minutes for part B, depending on the size of the group

Group Size: This strategy can be done with any size group.

Special Considerations

This strategy happens in two parts. Part A should be scheduled as close to Ash Wednesday as possible. Part B should take place at the end of Lent.

Materials Needed

Part A

  • a hammer
  • a cross or crucifix
  • large and small nails, one of each for each person plus a few extra for display
  • a Bible

Part B
The hammer, cross or crucifix, extra nails for display, and Bible from part A, plus the following items:

  • a basket
  • an empty coffee can
  • matches
  • a pitcher of water
  • a dishpan of sand
  • a large wooden or metal spoon
  • a stick (optional)

PROCEDURE
Part A

Preparation. Before the young people arrive, set up a prayer space in a central location, with a hammer, a cross or crucifix, large and small nails for the participants and for display, and a Bible.

1. Gather the young people in the prayer space. When they are settled, say the following prayer or one that is spontaneous:

O God, you know what is in our hearts and what is in our thoughts. Help us to examine our lives during this Lenten season and to know that you always forgive the things we do wrong.

2. Give each person a large nail and a small nail. Explain that the young people are to carry the small nail in a pocket all during Lent. When they reach into the pocket and feel the nail, they are to pause for a moment to think about their behaviors and attitudes.

The large nail is to be kept in their room. When they do something wrong, display a negative attitude, or act in a way that hurts themselves or someone else, at any time during the six weeks of Lent, they should write the offense on a piece of paper and attach the paper to the nail. At the end of Lent, they will bring the large nail, with their offenses attached, to the second part of this activity.

Part B

Preparation. A few days before conducting the second part of this activity, remind the young people to bring to the session their large nail with their offenses attached.

Set up a prayer space as you did for part A, minus the nails you have already distributed to the young people.

1. Gather the young people in the prayer space. When they are settled, say the following prayer or one that is spontaneous:

O God, you know what is in our hearts and what is in our thoughts. We have examined our lives during this Lenten season and know that you forgive all our offenses.

2. Pass a basket around the group. Tell the participants to take the papers off their nail and place them in the basket, saying a prayer of contrition as they do so. When all the papers have been collected, burn them a few at a time in a coffee can, adding them to the fire as the flames diminish. Keep a pitcher of water nearby in case the flames get out of hand. (If you have a large group, you may want to use several coffee cans and recruit adult helpers to speed this process.)

3. When the flames have died, ask one of the participants to mix the ashes into a dishpan of sand, using a large spoon. As the person is doing so, read John 8:3-11, slowly and prayerfully. After you are finished reading, write in the sand with a stick or with your fingertip, "You are forgiven!"

ALTERNATIVE APPROACHES

  • Consider this option if your group is not too large: Before the young people gather for part A of the strategy, build a simple wooden cross out of two pieces of wood. (Or you could ask one of the young people to build the cross.) Then hammer the nails for the participants partway into the cross so that they can easily be pulled out. Instead of simply distributing the nails during the group meeting, invite the participants each to remove one small and one large nail from the cross.

  • In the prayer space, use a cross made out of two plain pieces of wood. Instead of passing a basket around the group to collect the offenses in part B, place the basket near the cross. Tell the young people to come forward one at a time, place their papers into the basket, and hammer their nail into the cross.

  • Instead of offering this strategy in two sessions, at the beginning and end of Lent, combine the parts into one session and use it as a Lenten reconciliation service. You can do this by eliminating the small nails. At the beginning of the service, give each person a large nail, some small pieces of paper, and a pencil. Conduct a brief examination of conscience, then give the young people time to go off by themselves and reflect on their offenses, writing each one on a piece of paper and attaching it to their nail. If a priest is available, offer the option of sacramental Reconciliation.

    SCRIPTURAL CONNECTIONS

    • Ezek. 18:30-32 (Turn away from sin.)
    • Matt. 3:1-4 (Reform your life.)
    • Luke 7:44-50 (Your sins are forgiven.)

 

Acknowledgments

(This activity is taken from Holiday and Seasonal Ideas for Ministry with Young Teens, a manual in the HELP series, by Carole Goodwin and Marilyn Kielbasa [Winona, MN: Saint Mary's Press, 2000], pages 37-40. Copyright © 2000 by Saint Mary's Press. Permission is granted for this activity to be used for classroom or campus ministry purposes. This activity may not be republished in any form without written permission from Saint Mary's Press. To order this book, contact Saint Mary's Press at 800-533-8095, or visit our online catalog at www.smp.org/catalog.cfm.)

Published January 7, 2004.