Tuesday, February 21, 2012

observing Lent with children

I didn't grow up in a tradition that observes Lent, but I have always been drawn to symbols and seasons, and so I have approached Lent for several years as sort of an outsider, curious and learning as I attempted my own Lenten practices.

Kids love symbols, and Lent is a perfect time to use symbols to teach our kids spiritual truth.

I have found this season to be deeply meaningful, even necessary, and hopefully I will post soon about why I have come to cherish this time of year, and am eager to lead my children through an observance of Lent.

As Lent begins tomorrow with Ash Wednesday, I thought that I would first write about a few of the ways that I plan to observe Lent with our young children this year.
The traditional purpose of Lent is the penitential preparation of the believer—through prayerpenancerepentancealmsgiving, and self-denial. (Wikipedia)
 I am reluctant to practice any kind of religious observance that will cause dread or fear in my kids.  For this reason I did not intend to ask them to give anything up for Lent.  But last night as we were explaining to Sami what Lent is about, her immediate reaction was to declare that she will be giving up all sugar, and does not want any dessert in her lunch.  This morning she reminded me to not put any sweets in her lunch, but I told her that she doesn't actually begin her fast until tomorrow.  I have mixed feelings about her denying herself as a six year old, but I think that I will just walk with her through this and let her decide how devout she plans to be to her fast.

(Her response also convicted me to at least give up sugar as well!)

I intend to focus more on what we will do for Lent rather than give up: prayer, repentance, and almsgiving.


I removed many of the decorations from our home and replaced them with purple cloth and bare branches.  I also have a pot of aloe on the mantel which I learned is the language for grief or sorrow.  On Easter morning the bare branches will bloom with bright bouquets of flowers.

A dark, wintery painting now hangs in our living room, which on Easter morning will be replaced with a painting of vibrant color.

Tomorrow for Ash Wednesday we will make crosses with ash on paper and talk about why we mourn over our sin.  Then we will put stones and the word "Hallelujah" in a box and bury it.  On Easter morning we will unearth our Hallelujah, and the stones will have turned to sparkly gems or butterflies.

Prayer: I am printing out a calendar for the 40 days of Lent with specific things to pray for: our President, pastors, school, etc.

Almsgiving: We will be talking about ways that we can bless others.   One of the qualities of a seed is that it's whole identity is in it's giving.

Repentance: At some point I will follow Ann's example and pour a bowl of flour and talk about repentance . . . but not to leave out for Lent because I don't want to sweep flour all day long :-).  For now we have printed out Col.3:12-14 to talk about and memorize.

Signs of Spring (resurrection!):  Over the next few weeks we will be on the look-out for signs of spring.  We will bring them home to display on our nature table, or to color in a "spring-sightings" journal.

One of the ways I am most eager to observe Lent is by focusing on singing hymns- as a family, at bedtime, over my children, throughout my day.  I've always felt shy about singing except with my kids- but more about that later . . .

I will do my best to blog our Lenten observance as we journey through it this year.  I feel it is important to keep our family rituals simple and light, always leaving room for a sense of holy beauty and reverence that has been passed down to us from age to age; we are only it's brief participants.

And now I believe there is still chocolate in the house that needs taken care of . . . enjoy your Fat Tuesday!

Great post by Rachel Held Evans: 40 Ideas for Lent.

2 comments:

LisaM said...

I'm in charge of planning the Ash Wednesday service for our church this year and as a resource, I put these ideas on a little handout for families http://www.incourage.me/2010/03/five-ways-for-a-family-to-celebrate-easter.html ... and one from Rachel Held Evans for adults.

Great post!! I'm curious how Sam's fast will go too as I think about observing Lent in the future with Lena. Do keep us updated. :-)

camilla said...

Thank you for this post. I was talking with my kids about Lent last night at dinner. I've been praying about how much to do with them. We never really gave much attention to lent, and I have been pretty intrigued with exploring it myself. I look forward to reading about your family journey through lent this year.