Here’s a post I wrote 2 years ago about Lent – reading it now I have to laugh. James was 5 at the time. He is now 7. We haven’t talked about what we’re giving up for Lent – it’s been a crazy season of life. This weekend will be a time of talking, praying and hearing from our boys and what God is going in their hearts.
How do you talk to your kids about lent?
Are your kids or family giving up something in particular?
I’d love to hear your thoughts – please leave a comment below :o)
Yesterday was Ash Wednesday – the beginning of the Lent. Last year was the first time we took our children to an Ash Wednesday service. It was a wonderful experience I documented in my post Discovering Lent. This year I had to work, Matt was sick and we didn’t make it to any services at church, which was a bummer. But we are still talking to our kids about what these 40 days mean to us and how it helps us prepare for Easter. My favorite part of this Smarter Moms community is knowing I’m not alone in this journey…
Some of you have commented on Facebook, sent a Tweet or sent us emails asking about how and when children should be involved in this tradition and how to explain Lent to them. I’m so glad you asked because I was struggling with the same issues just yesterday!
I picked up our son, James, from preschool and saw a paper laying on the table outside their classroom door. The teachers had obviously explained Lent and asked children what they would give up during these 40 days of remembering Jesus. I was shocked to see James’ answer – he was going to give up wrestling with his Dad!?!?! That’s his most favorite thing in the world to do!
I smiled as I read the other children’s responses and began praying for wisdom. Did James truly understand Lent? How would I help him be aware without creating a feeling of guilt or pressure? I was still praying silently as we walked to the car and our conversation at lunch was eye-opening for both of us. I hope you can take some of this script and use it if the need arises, but I want to point out that each child is different and you know them best. Pray and trust the Holy Spirit to lead you through these sometimes complicated topics. We’ll also look at some main points to cover when discussing Lent and resources for you to user. For now, here’s my conversation with my sweet baby James:
M: Did you guys talk about Lent today with Ms. Kristen and Ms. Lynn?
M: Well, what did you learn?
J: We were suppose to pick something to give up and I said I’d stop wrestling with Dad for the next 40 years because I usually get hurt when we wrestle with the other boys anyway, so I thought that’d be a good thing to give up.
M: Do you know why you are giving up wrestling with Dad?
M: How about I tell you more about Lent and how Daddy and I observe it and then maybe we can talk more about what you want to do – would that be okay?
M: What do we celebrate at Christmas time?
J: Jesus’ birthday!
M: That’s right! Jesus made a choice to leave His home, Heaven, and all his angel friends and even His Father – God. He gave it all up so He could come here to earth and save you and me. That’s a pretty awesome sacrifice don’t you think?
J: Yeah – I wouldn’t want to leave you guys and go anywhere! I’d miss all my toys and my bike.
M: I know, that would be so tough! You don’t have to leave us or your bike. But Lent is a time when we think of something “extra”. Think of something in your life that you really enjoy eating or drinking or doing – but remember it needs to be something extra…can you think of anything?
M: Something extra in my life would be sweet treats, coke zero, even watching certain TV shows….I really enjoy all those things but if they weren’t in my life I’d still be okay wouldn’t I?
M: So, during Lent we choose something extra, something we enjoy, and we give it up for 40 days. Then every time we want to drink a coke or watch a show or eat a sweet treat we remember what Jesus gave up. He gave up Heaven for you and me! Giving something up is simply a way to help us remember and help us keep a thankful spirit. You don’t HAVE to give anything up, but it’s kind of a cool challenge. Whatever you give up gets to come back in your life on Easter morning – just like Jesus was able to go back home to Heaven on Easter morning!
J: Ohhhh Okay, I think I got it. You know what I really like? Sprite. I think I want to give up Sprite instead of wrestling with Dad.
M: Babe, I think that’s a great idea – do you want to give up drinking anything that has those bubbles in it and only drink milk, juice and water? Or you could just give up Sprite – whatever you want to do.
J: I think I want to give up everything with the bubbles in it (pause) and Mom, I think you should give up drinking Coke too. We can do it together!
M: (with a slightly false, begrudging tone) I think that’s a great idea! We’ll do it together. So every time we want to order a Sprite or Coke at McDonald’s or want to drink it at home we’ll remind ourselves that Jesus gave up Heaven and we’re giving up that drink.
We were eating lunch during this conversation and BOTH of us had a carbonated beverage as our drink. James suddenly had a look of horror on his face like he’d broken a rule or messed up already. I assured him that today we could drink as much coke and sprite as we wanted – Lent didn’t start until tomorrow. And now that He had me committed to no Coke I educated him concerning the Western Church’s view of Sundays during Lent.
He was very excited to hear we could have Coke and Sprite on Sundays because they represent the resurrection. In fact, if you count from Feb. 22 (Ash Wednesday) through April 8 (Easter) there are 46 days. Lent is a forty-day period because we don’t count the Sundays. I know for some people it’s more about a complete surrender and removal of a task so perhaps skipping Sundays isn’t something you would like to observe and that’s fine – each person needs to observe Lent in their own way.
When it comes to children and this season I don’t think they should feel pressure to sacrifice anything beyond their ability. If a child doesn’t truly understand the crucifixion and resurrection they won’t grasp this time of sacrifice and remembrance. Start small and let your child choose something on their own or talk with your family and pick something that ALL of you will sacrifice during these forty days. Some ideas might include:
* Instead of going out to eat, save the money and buy groceries for a local food pantry
* Instead of watching television or playing video games in the evening, decide to read sections of scripture that describe Jesus’ ministry and life. Following His journey to the cross makes the week before Easter and Easter morning even more amazing.
* Perhaps your child gives up a favorite toy or activity for a day. During that day, help them remember WHY they are giving up that particular thing.
* Instead of buying new clothes, commit to getting rid of clothing that isn’t being used or doesn’t fit and give it to a local charity.
* Instead of watching TV, sit down and write letters to missionaries (your church will have a list of names and addresses) and thank them for helping others know about Jesus and how much He loves them.
The whole point of Lent isn’t to be like the Pharisees and brag about what we’re giving up. That would be selfish and boastful. The point of Lent is to remember that sacrifice matters, discipline counts and in order to be an effective Christian we need these reminders each year so we don’t forget.
Sometimes when our children watch us observe these traditions they learn as much or more than if they had participated. Never force a child to receive communion, to have ash on their forehead or give up something during Lent. To force them takes away the fundamental component to the Christian life: free will.
Here are some great websites with other ideas for celebrating this season with children. Don’t worry that the “actual day” has passed. This isn’t about strict observance of particular dates and times. This is about helping our children remember how much Jesus loves them and how we respond to that love in our own life. We won’t love the things of this world so much that we can’t give them up – even if it’s for a season. We will love God and Jesus more than anything else!
Have a great Lent season and please, share your stories with us in the comment box – how do you celebrate with your kids and how did they respond to the whole idea of Lent? We need to hear from you!