Having grown up decidedly low-Anglican (not only were there no smells and bells in our parish but even candles were seen as being a little suspicious!), I don’t have a specific Lent practice in my heritage. Yes, we often gave something up for Lent as kids but that was more of an influence from school friends rather than our home. I also never made any real mental link between giving up butter on my bread or sugar in my tea and my spiritual life. It all seemed a bit pointless really.
As an adult, I’ve increasingly wanted a time of preparation in order to focus fully on Easter and have also been attracted to the idea of having 40 days in which to establish new and helpful habits. As a parent, I’ve also been drawn towards using the traditions of the church year to help my children grow in their faith. But without a childhood pattern of Lent observance, I’m left a bit at sea as to how to mark the period between Shrove Tuesday and Easter.
Recently I’ve been writing for the Families First blog and I had to write a post, ahead of time, on how to make Lent meaningful for children. (It’ll be up towards the end of the month). Lent starts on the 5th March this year – there’s your heads up – and I had ideas for four different directions we could take Lent for those of us outside the Catholic or Anglo-Catholic traditions.
Firstly, however, I’ll confess. We haven’t marked Lent with our children yet. Last year we had a 3 and a 1 year old and it seemed too long a period to maintain an interest in any project. But after the huge success of the Jesse Tree we did for Advent (photos later in the year but try googling “Jesse Tree” for an idea), I think we’re going to go for it with Lent! I think my children actually enjoy longer projects because they become a highlight of each day and children being highly ritualistic at that age, they were really sad when Advent ended. Advent was such a special time for us as a family this year and I’m keen to recreate that time of learning and anticipation before we celebrate Easter – and we celebrated Easter in a BIG way last year! (More on that next month!)
So, the first direction you could take things is to explore the theme of repentance.This of course links well to the crucifixion, resurrection and redemption narrative which follow at Easter. Some families have a “sorry” box during this season into which they put slips of paper noting down anything they feel sorry for. These slips can then be ritually destroyed on Good Friday, perhaps by burning them. The amazing Ann Voskamp also has a wonderful idea for a family “Fresh Start place” . Not one for those with tinies in the house (it involves an open bowl of sand!) but a lovely tactile and tangible idea for older children.
You could lead your family through Lent on a prayer adventure if that is an area in which your kids need to grow. One family I know has a basket full of the names of friends and picks one to pray for each day at random, letting the person know by e-mail or letter that they have been prayed for that day. The number of times their prayers have been unexpectedly well-timed has built their faith as a family no end.
In the Catholic church tradition, Lent is a time to remember Jesus’ 40 days in the wilderness before his ministry started, hence the idea of fasting or giving up something for Lent. Had you considered giving up something as a whole family, ideally after some discussion and arrival at a consensus? Maybe puddings or TV? Learning together about finding God’s strength in the face of temptation (or grace in the face of occasional failure?!?) could be a real growing experience!
If our focus is on God’s provision for Jesus’ needs in his desert time, that could lead us to exploring one of the many “Count your blessings” type Lent countdowns available at this time of year. There’s a good one from Christian Aid here
Whatever you decide to do to mark Lent, may it be a blessed time for you and your family!
So, do you mark Lent in your family? Do you think it’s important? Or useful? Or do you prefer to avoid the traditional church calendar?