By Jaime Jo Wright, Crosswalk.com
Lent begins very soon. For many of us, this is a natural observation and something we have done for years. The observances are well understood, and the reason behind such observances is also understood. But do your kids understand? When is a good time to begin involving them in the season of Lent? What are good ways to bring your children into Lent?
One of the first and most important things to do is to be teaching your children about Lent and its meaning. In short, it's beneficial for them to understand that the six-week period of reflection and self-examination is symbolic of the forty days when the Israelites wandered in the wilderness and the temptation of Jesus after his forty days fast. It is a preparation of the heart for the upcoming Easter season, which involves not only recognition of the death and resurrection of Christ but the repentance of sin and the subsequential freedom from sin and death that comes after Christ's sacrifice.
These are deep topics for kids to understand, so consider Lent a time to introduce them to these concepts. Depending on their ages, it may be as simple as beginning to help them understand what sin is or as complex as teaching the theology behind many of the observations during Lent. Your church will likely have resources for you to draw from, especially if your children are older. But be cautious not to discount the value of teaching these things to your little ones too. There is much they can learn, in simple form, to prepare them for ongoing spiritual growth in their futures.
Here are a few ways that you can involve your younger children in Lent in a way to help prepare them to continue the observance as they grow and become adults:
1. Crafts and Activities
There is a litany of crafts for children related to Lent. Pray, fast, and give are three simplified words for the three pillars of Lent. Online resources are rich in crafts and activities related to these three pillars, from printable Lenten calendars to handcrafts that highlight the popular days of Lent, such as: Palm Sunday, Ash Wednesday, Holy Thursday, and Easter Sunday. There are some great examples of Last Supper dioramas for older children to create and paper plate Holy Week banners for young ones to get inspired by.
Crafts and activities specifically focused on the Lenten season are significant ways for children to learn about Lent without losing interest. It engages the visual elements of learning, the hands-on aspect of creating, and the mind-engaging portion of understanding the why behind what they are doing.
2. Books, Books, and More Books
Never underestimate the old, tried, and true process of reading with your children. Today, more than ever, many fabulous books are written, specifically covering various times during the Lenten season. Vivid with beautiful art, expertly written, and published in formats that suit any learning style, books remain one of the main ways to continue to include our children in Lent.
There is also a myriad of options when it comes to viewing options for the young ones too. Many of these are in cartoon format or are created specifically with children in mind. Whether they're biblical stories that acknowledge elements of Lent or learning about Lent through the eyes of specific characters, these can be effective tools in giving your children a head start in embracing Lent.
4. Recipe Gathering
Include your children in gathering recipes that will work for meatless meals. This is especially fun if they're geared toward children and use ingredients the kids can understand and get behind. Also, be prepared to answer the questions about why we choose to forfeit meat and the concept of sacrifice that Christ gave up his body—the flesh—as an atonement for our sins. The concept of giving up something important like chicken nuggets in comparison to Christ's sacrifice may seem laughable, but it can be impactful for a child to learn. So include them in the process of planning around this fasting from meat on Fridays to help teach them the importance of this observation.
5. Teach Fasting
This is such a critical element in the observation of lent. It is the opportunity to practice the sacrifice of something in response to the upcoming death and sacrifice of Christ. There are all sorts of things to "fast" from for kids—TV, electronics in general, candy, a specific toy, etc. That's not the difficult part. The tricky portion is helping the child do so with determination and understanding of the why behind it.
So how does one teach fasting? First, by example. Let your child experience your fast with you. Show them the sacrifice you're making, and while they may not forfeit wine for a seasons—for obvious reasons—they can walk that journey with you and see how it affects your relationship with God. Secondly, encourage them to choose something to forfeit alongside you. Doing it together will develop community within your child and give you opportunities to help them along the way.
It's a thrilling opportunity to teach our faith to our children. Lent is a component of tradition that can provide many teaching opportunities that normal weekly life may not. It focuses on the days leading up to Christ's ultimate sacrifice and, even more importantly, His remarkable victory over sin and death. It is the chance to begin to plant seeds in our children for their need of a Savior. A recognition of what sin is, our responsibility for sin's consequences, and the subsequent and undeserved redemption offered in the culmination of the Resurrection. A message of grace that can never be learned too soon.
Take the time to plan ahead this Lenten season and make a point to bring your children into the observances. You can do this quickly and simply if they're very young. If they're teenagers, between offered options through your church and the myriad of ideas you can find online, you'll be able to help enrich their maturing spiritual lives through parental encouragement.
All in all, the key is to involve your child. There are many ways to do this, but it begins with a determination from you, as the parent, to do this. Imagine the richness of grace you are infusing into the hearts and minds of your children. And when Easter Sunday arrives—finally—imagine the revelation and the completion of their anticipation paralleled to the Resurrection and its message of victorious conclusion.
Photo credit: ©GettyImages/Bohdan Bevz
Jaime Jo Wright is an ECPA and Publisher’s Weekly bestselling author. Her novel “The House on Foster Hill” won the prestigious Christy Award and she continues to publish Gothic thrillers for the inspirational market. Jaime Jo resides in the woods of Wisconsin, lives in dreamland, exists in reality, and invites you to join her adventures at jaimewrightbooks.com and at her podcast madlitmusings.com where she discusses the deeper issues of story and faith with fellow authors.