It is February 18th today and already, again, Lent is upon us. Every year it sneaks up on me even though I know it is always 40 days before Easter. Last year it came and went without any celebration. I just didn’t have it in me. I was exhausted. I was nursing all the time and trying to stay up with school. The kids were branching out into extracurricular activities and friends and our time was being sucked out from beneath our house feet.
And the kids felt it. Maybe not until it was closer to Easter but, they felt the lack of liturgical fluidity that links Lent to Easter. And they asked about it. And they whined that I “forgot”. So when I was checking the date last night I was sucker-punched again as I realized it was the next day and that, again, I still hadn’t planned for it. But after realizing how much this meant to my kids, I resolved, however imperfectly, to acknowledge and celebrate today.
And the Lord, in His infinite mercy and goodness, helped me along. One of my best friends handed me a 2015 Lenten Devotions guide that she received free through a community service event a few weeks ago. I fished it out under a pile of books and flipped to the first day’s devotion while making breakfast.
Mathew 4: 1-4
The story of Christ and his temptation after 40 days in the wilderness.
At breakfast we read the verses. We read the devotional. We discussed all the rich links.
Why is Lent 40 days before Easter?
What is the link between Jesus 40 days in the Wilderness and Israel’s 40 years in the wilderness?
Why are we to sacrifice for Lent?
What does our sacrifice have to do with Jesus and his 40 days? And with his ultimate sacrifice?
How or what do we sacrifice?
But my favorite discussion came from the little conversations surrounding the quandary of what to give up. We talked about keeping our sacrifice between ourselves and God. (The last thing I want to be is the Lent police picking out how my kids are failing one more time or in correcting them with a more appropriate sacrifice.) We talked about failure and how that is actually a positive thing. Failing at Lent is a perfect practical application for us about how trying to “be good” on our own will always fail. Only one will not fail. Only one has not failed. That one – Jesus – is why his 40 days resisting temptation really means something and why his ultimate sacrifice covers everything. This allows Lent to truly become a walk to the cross as we practice living for Him but, in our failure, rejoice in the Resurrection on Easter morning.
So, how do we do Lent as a family?
First, we discuss the meaning of Lent, why it comes before Easter, and what sacrifice means.
Next, everyone picks something they would like to sacrifice for the next forty days leading up to Easter. Note – this can be something tangible like giving up desserts or coffee, or it can be something intangible like giving up anger in exchange for self-control towards siblings. And for littles we let them pick regardless of if it seems sacrificial enough for us or not.
Then we take our sacrifices to the fire. Just as we, as Christians, are refined in the fire of the Holy Spirit in order to make us more holy, we offer these sacrifices to be burned out of us in a physical representation of fire. A candle flame is a tangible symbol of this. Each child is allowed to relinquish their sacrifice to the death of the flames.
Afterwards, we take the ashes and make the sign of the cross on our foreheads. This is a great reminder of our promise to God especially as we go out into the word. We are set apart as a people. Others notice. What better way for your child to evangelize as another child asks them why they have soot on their forehead? This is a perfect opportunity for you, as a parent, to also role play with your older teens on how you explain their budding faith.
And – my kids favorite part! – then we color the Lent Countdown Calendar to Easter! What a fun way (that doesn’t involve candy) to countdown to, what should be, the most celebrated holiday of the year for us, as Christians.
So just because you may be reading this post after Lent has already begun – maybe way after – don’t let that stop you from participating with your kids this year. Start where you are today. Your kids won’t mind coloring in extra spaces on their calendar. In fact, you may discover next year that you, too, have started a new family tradition that makes your family’s faith walk much richer.