How to Practice Lent With Kids

February 13th, 2018 | April Karli

“We walk through a vale of tears on this earth and the only way through it is through it. It is a lesson we learn and live. I believe it’s OK to be sad; in other words, there ought to be space in our lives to learn the texture of sadness.” John Blase, Know When to Hold ‘Em

Lent is not often associated with children. It’s a season of the church lasting forty days, not counting Sundays, which begins on Ash Wednesday (February 14 this year) and ends on Holy Saturday (March 31). The forty days of Lent represent the time Jesus spent in the wilderness being tempted by Satan. During Lent we intentionally enter into darkness and Christ’s sacrifice.
There are aspects of Lent that are abstract and even difficult. But, Lent is a season that children can be invited into, and it can be experienced by all ages in meaningful ways.
Lent is about grief, lament, repentance, suffering, and loss. All of these things are part of our world and things we will encounter as we follow Jesus. As parents and those teaching kids to follow Jesus, Lent is a tool to help us talk about hard things with our kids. If we give our children a faith that is always about joy and light, they won’t know what to do when darkness comes. Lent teaches them, and us, how to lean into suffering and darkness.
As we choose to step into suffering during Lent and acknowledge God’s presence with us in it, we do so knowing that Jesus did the same thing. We teach our kids the truth that God will always be present with us even in pain and suffering. And after the forty days of Lent are over, the life and celebration of Easter will stand in even more meaningful contrast.
Here are a few ideas to make Lent meaningful as a family:
Ash Wednesday: Ash Wednesday is a solemn and quiet service which may be difficult for especially young children. However, there are aspects of the service that can be grasped, especially for older kids. Seeing everyone in their church family marked with ashes helps kids know they belong. The ashes are a powerful visual symbol that we are God’s family and connected to each other. In addition, Ash Wednesday carries the powerful reminder for kids that we all mess up, even adults, and we all are forgiven.
Kids are welcome at this week’s Ash Wednesday Lament Night Liturgy.
Holy Week: Holy Week provides several opportunities. On Maundy Thursday (March 29) invite friends over and share a meal like Jesus did with his disciples at Passover. Read the story of the Last Supper and break bread together. Kids really get excited about the idea of washing feet, too, if you’re up for it. On Good Friday (March 30) you can attend a service as a family and remember Jesus’ death on the cross. Sensitive kids might have a hard time processing this story. It is good for them to hear it with their parents where they can seek comfort and ask questions.
Lenten Pretzels: Legend has it that pretzels were first made by monks in Europe during the Middle Ages as a Lenten bread. They’re shaped to look like two arms crossed in prayer. Bake some pretzels with your family (or buy some from the store!) As you enjoy eating them together, pray for family, friends, your neighborhood, our church. Here’s a recipe you can try.
From our friend Christine Sine, here are Five Ways To Foster Creativity In your Kids During Lent. Christine presents some simple but thoughtful ways to stir our kids’ imaginations throughout Lent.
As always, Illustrated Children’s Ministry has another beautiful devotional for families to download and color. The devotionals are based on the lectionary gospel readings during Lent and include a reflection, discussion questions, an activity, and a prayer for each week during Lent.
Here are some “take home” ideas for disciplines you can practice as a family. Many people take on a new spiritual discipline during Lent. This blog offers several ideas for ways to incorporate that practice into your family’s routine during the season.
May the season of Lent be full of surprises for you and your family!