During most of my childhood, growing up in a liturgical denomination meant that Lent was about “giving up candy or sweets”. I was taught that Lent is the season of self-denial and giving something up made sense, but it wasn’t something I necessarily looked forward to. Lent didn’t have the outward beauty of Advent, with its evergreen wreath, Christmas hymns and weekly candle lighting. It was somber. It was almost too reflective for a kid. What is Lent all about, anyway?…this season of self denial, penance and meditation? How do we teach our kids it’s more than just giving up candy for 40 days?
As a young adult, I explored the deeper meaning of Lent and how very important this season can be in preparation to celebrate the joy of the Resurrection! As with any BIG event in our lives, we must prepare ourselves. Lent is literally a time of reflection on the passion of Jesus; 40 days in which we reflect on the hugeness of what our Salvation is and the plan that God had for each of us through Jesus. It’s also very baptismal in nature. It is a very prayerful time in which we prepare ourselves to celebrate the grace of our forgiveness, our gift of salvation and the hope in the Resurrection.
How to Talk to Kids About Lent
Talking to our kids about Lent means we first have to understand the history and meaning behind WHY it’s celebrated. Look for a great article about “what is Lent?” to be posted this week on the What’s in the Bible? blog. The important thing is that we do take the time and talk to them about what this season leading up to Easter is all about.
If you want to start talking to your kids today, the first day of Lent, two very important teaching tools we parents use everyday are symbols and story. If you walk into most liturgical churches during Lent, you’ll find that many of their altars are decorated using desert plants and large bowls of water or even simple waterfalls. These two symbols are important during the Lenten season. The desert experience reminds us of the 40 years the Israelites wandered in the desert before being allowed into the Promised Land. It is also very symbolic of the 40 days Jesus spent in the desert being tempted and tempered before beginning His earthly ministry. The number “40” is symbolic too. Nothing Biblical is random and that’s important to share with our children.
Water is an important symbol in Lent. Lent is a time we work towards an inner renewal of our Baptism in Christ. It is a season when we delve a little deeper into our faith and understanding of our salvation through grace. Since Lent is baptismal in nature, it’s a good time to discuss baptism with our kids. Talking about how the water is either poured over their heads or how they are immersed, and how it’s a symbol of dying to a life without Christ and being resurrected to a new life– a forever life–with Him. Using story to enhance this visual, share with them the actual Bible story of how John the Baptist baptized Jesus in the Jordan River. And how Jesus loved us so much He gave us this beautiful example to better explain God’s gift of salvation.
Practicing Lent as a Family
If your family celebrates fasting during this season, talk to your kids about why the family isn’t eating meat on Friday. (It is customary that only people who are 18-59 are expected to fast throughout Lent, although some families do decide to include everyone in the meat-fast on Fridays or at least on Good Friday). First, it’s an act of self-denial. In our consumerist society a little self denial can really teach virtue! Secondly, it’s meant to unify the church with the poor, both locally and throughout the world. Lent has always been a time when individual families, churches and schools collect money for the poor and for missionaries who serve locally and abroad. Giving up meat each week allows families to put that extra money towards this offering. Kids tend to love collecting /saving change for a church offering if they know that this money will be helping others in the world!
Another way we can instruct our children to “fast” during their Lenten journey, is by encouraging them to be more loving to brothers, sisters and parents. Fasting from arguing with siblings or talking back to parents for 40 days will lead to good practices that might even last past Easter Sunday!
Resources for Lent
Lent is a time when prayer with family is essential. We are truly preparing for Holy Week, Good Friday and Easter Sunday. There are several good devotionals to be found online or at Christian bookstores. Many families use these weeks to read the Passion of Jesus in the Gospel. My very good friend, Denise, who shares my deep love of learning religious traditions and church history, and who has taught Catechism classes for years, recently told me about a book, “He is Risen; Reflections on Easter and the Forty Days of Lent.” What I especially like about this book is that it can be utilized by all Christians, no matter their specific denomination.
For any who have never been to Stations of the Cross, I encourage you to find out if your local Catholic, Lutheran or Episcopal church is holding these services on Good Friday. It is a prayerful service that literally walks the participants through the Passion of Jesus. The entire family can take part in this service and then discuss our forgiveness of sins through the amazing love and sacrifice of our Lord; once again in preparation to celebrate His Resurrection in three days!
If you have any suggestions for family devotionals or other ways in which we can help teach our children about the importance of preparing to celebrate the Resurrection, please share with us in the comments section.
Lisa Strnad is a freelance writer/blogger, who regularly contributes to What’s in the Bible? and Jelly Telly. She is a homeschooling mom of two, who works independently in Christian media in the areas of writing, promotions and marketing. She lives with her husband and children in Nashville,TN.