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Talking to Children About Lent

February 22 2018
February 22 2018

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Lent can offer parents a rich opportunity to bring the Gospel home to our children’s hearts. My kids love and look forward to Christian holidays, but this year I realized that although they are familiar with the rhythms of the church calendar, sometimes I am taking for granted that they fully grasp the deeper meanings of the seasons. This year, we were able to further discuss the symbols and story of Lent.

Sometimes the best way to start is to talk about the joy and glory of Easter. Starting with Easter, you can discuss Jesus’ death and resurrection and what that means for us. Easter Sunday celebrates Jesus’ return from the dead. The concepts of resurrection and life after death are fundamental to the Christian faith, so introduce them early. Working backwards from there, you can discuss our sin and need for a Savior and how the Season of Lent is a time for remembering.

My children have viewed Ash Wednesday as a “kick-off” of sorts to the Easter season of Lent. While it's true that Ash Wednesday is the first day of Lent, this year we spoke more on the significance and symbolism of the day within the larger context of the season. The symbolic drawing of a cross with ashes on the forehead is meant to remind us of our mortality and need for a Savior. The significance of 40 days of Lent correlates to the Old Testament wanderings in the wilderness of the children of Israel (40 years) and the also to the New Testament time of temptation and testing for Jesus in the desert (40 days). While it might be difficult for children to understand the concept of spiritual times of “desert,” they can certainly understand loneliness, sadness, pain, fear, and confusion. It is during these times that we see our need for Christ more sharply.

Adopting a Lenten practice as a family can be helpful in continuing the conversation. Instead of focusing on self-denial in a bleak way, in our family we have highlighted the need to pare down distractions in our life so we can confess our sins and focus on the work Jesus did for us. We can use our time prayerfully in order to ready our hearts for the celebration of Easter—the grace of forgiveness, the gift of salvation, and our hope in the Resurrection. In our home, one simple way we have found to focus our hearts on Christ is to record our sins during Lent to set our hearts and minds on repentance. Each night around the dinner table, we light a single candle and confess our failings and shortcomings for that day. We even ask forgiveness of family members when appropriate. We recite I John 1:9 together- “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” We write them down. It is a very humbling and sobering reminder that we need Jesus again and again. After we write down our sins, we put them into a box. On Holy Week (usually Good Friday), we have a bonfire and cast all the pieces of paper into our fire pit. This physical and visual reminder of what Christ did for us retells what happens when we confess and receive forgiveness.

If you do choose to give something up, consider doing that as a family as well - sweets, chocolate, TV, devices or shopping for non-essentials, for example. Another alternative can be trying a combination of these practices, rotating one per week. In an attempt to practice being more loving to siblings and parents, maybe even agree to try fasting from arguing and discord! This is a wonderful time to remind children that in the Christian life, we not only want to practice the “putting off” certain things, but also, the “putting on” of things that are others-oriented—prayer, sharing toys, hospitality, giving of our time volunteering, helping others, etc.

Talk about the key days of Lent including Ash Wednesday, Palm Sunday marking Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, Maundy Thursday, the night before Christ died, and his Last Supper with the disciples, and Good Friday, when we remember his death on the cross. End Holy Week by looking to the joy of Easter! Speak with enthusiasm about the symbolism we see all around us this time of year (eggs= new life; butterflies=new creation; flowers in bloom= our growth in Christ). Let us together endeavor to speak of the Lord’s goodness and mercy often to our children as we welcome Easter together with unbridled joy.

For more practical tips and ideas see this post.


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