When I was a child, the season of Lent was one that was practiced in my parochial school setting as well as within my family; however, it was a practice that I did not fully understand. Oh, I understood the giving up of something (usually sweets) and the time spent in prayer and alms giving, but the true meaning of it all was lost on me as a young child. The timeline from Christmas to Easter seemed really weird and unusually cruel. Why exactly did they nail the baby Jesus to the cross? How were giving up candy and not eating meat on Friday going to help me get closer to God? Such were the musings of a six-year old school girl. As I grew older, the Christmas to Easter timeline became clearer as I learned that Jesus had grown up and was a man who died on the cross for our sins, yet the general practices of Lent were still a source of dread. As an adult, the initial thought of the season of Lent can still produce the visceral sense of dread I once experienced in childhood and my youth. It is now as a parent and a teacher that the meaning and purpose behind the 40 days in which the church observes Lent has become meaningful.
As a parent and as a teacher, Lent can be a difficult subject to explain to children. It is no wonder I was confused as a child as the subject matter does seem heavy and lends itself to more of a “you-will-do-Lent-because-that’s-what-you-do-before-Easter” kind of of topic. I have found that in talking about Lent with my own children as well as in teaching children about Lent, my own approach to Lent has been transformed. Children naturally draw near to God in all that they do through their own curiosity about the world around them. The season of Lent, therefore, can actually come easy for children. The tried and true practices of giving up something, prayer and alms giving were intended to draw one’s attention away from the world and to focus the individual on the presence of God; however, in many cases those Lenten practices can become a reminder of the law which in turn does the opposite of drawing us nearer to God. For children and for we adults, the most important aspect of the season of Lent is the turning towards God and being increasingly more aware of his presence. Although we know that we are incapable of loving God perfectly, we draw hope in knowing that Jesus did indeed die on the cross so that we may live. Children do understand this amazing gift that we were all given. So how can the season of Lent be a time that does foster a child’s natural curiosity about God and drawing nearer to him through Jesus?
The life of a parent is busy and we may find that doing Lent with our families is just one more thing to add to the list. But, it really doesn’t have to be that way. My own Lenten practices have changed over the years from the dreaded practice of giving up something to a more natural practice of adding in something. For example, I have found that during the season of Lent talking abut Jesus’ ministry with children is deeply meaningful. As a family we may take time to read from the Bible at night around the dinner table or before bed. Listening to your child read the words from the Bible stories is a sweet way to hear the words of God and gain a different perspective as you discuss the stories. I have also found that in asking children, “Where did you see or hear God today?” that it draws them and me into being more fully aware of the presence of God all around us. These types of conversations also lead to discussing ways in which we have trusted God to help us to be kind, or loving or helpful to others during the day. These are just a few examples that I do during Lent; however, there are many things that you may find naturally fit for you to do with your own children during the season of Lent. All in all, a Lenten practice is not meant to be an added burden that causes dread, but rather a natural breath of fresh air, a pause in your day, so to speak, that invites and draws us near to Jesus as we approach Easter. May this season of Lent be a source of peace and renewal for you and your children.