Doing Lent Together: Lenten Ideas for Your Family
By Steffanie Methvin, Director of Children And Family Ministry | March 11, 2019
As a mom and a Children’s minister, I’ve found one of the biggest challenges of Lent is helping kids understand this more serious season of the church year and finding meaningful, age-appropriate ways to observe it as a family in our harried, hurried lives.
For some, Lent has a negative connotation because it’s innately linked with giving up something delicious or something that makes us happy. If we’re not careful, we can pass that negative emotion on to our children. I, however, am one of those strange people who look forward to Lent (and not just because of the possibility of losing a few pounds).
At our Ash Wednesday Children’s Chapel the other night, I described Lent like this: “Because Easter is such an important time of celebration, it takes us a while to get ready for it. Just like Jesus went into the desert for 40 days to grow closer to God, we use the 40 days of Lent to give up things that keep us far from God and to do certain things that draw us closer to God.”
Lent has become a “welcome interruption” in the crazy busyness of my life that I desperately need. For me, the “forced discipline” of fasting or the taking on of something extra, such as deeper prayer or acts of service, brings a comforting rhythm to my unsteady life and frees my grip from the truly unimportant.
As challenging as it can be for me to go without bread for 40 days, the mindful extracting of that small thing from my life somehow, mysteriously, opens up fertile ground in my heart for the Holy Spirit to do some transformational work.
Surprisingly, I have found that age-appropriate Lenten disciplines can have profound spiritual effects on our children as well when taught, modeled, and expected of them.
If you were to google “Lenten Ideas for Kids” you’d discover dozens of great articles and ideas and crafts (especially if you’re one of those creative types) to share with your kids. But if you’re like me and easily distracted and overwhelmed, here are a few suggestions that I think could be helpful in making your Lenten family experience very meaningful.
Something that was always important to Greg and me when our kids were younger, was getting our whole family involved in the observance of Lent.
This meant that we had to get our whole family together…at one time…in one place to talk about it!
With our busy schedules, we found the best time to do this was at dinner. While we didn’t eat dinner together every night (I know, the horror!), we did intentionally set aside at least one evening soon after Ash Wednesday to eat together and discuss what Lent was about, why it was important, and then come up with ideas for things we could either give up or add to our daily lives. We would end in prayer, sometimes with Greg or I leading or sometimes just saying The Lord’s Prayer all together. Occasionally, we would use a Lenten family devotional, and on the nights we were able to eat together, we’d take turns reading parts out loud and then check in with each other on how we were doing with our “disciplines”. These meals could be awkward, but we were doing our best to model and pass on our faith to our kids.
Eating and Praying Together
My friend and co-worker, Sarah Koniar, takes the “traditional” family meal moment a step further during Lent. She, husband Rob, and nine-year-old daughter, Shelby commit to eating dinner together at least five nights a week. She admits this can be tough with everyone’s crazy schedules, but says that it is worth it to keep from losing touch with one another. Ever since Shelby learned to read, they’ve been using a Prayer Cube like this one, to take turns saying the mealtime prayer. It’s a simple act but it is building faith in their family.
If five nights of family meals aren’t practical (or emotionally healthy) for your family during Lent, start with one. Talk about the highs and lows of your day. Read a Bible verse. Use a pre-written prayer. Just try it.
Anglican Prayer Beads are another excellent resource to us during Lent to encourage a deeper prayer life. Making them is a great project for the family to do together. You can find a downloadable devotional here to pray individually or together. Because kids are so sensate (and many adults, too), touching the beads as they pray can help focus attention and open them to new ways to connect with the Holy Spirit.
Esther Bley, from the blog “The Homely Hours”, has more neat ideas for using prayer beads with kids.
Fasting (and Tidying up) Together
Tara Ziegmont of the “Feels Like Home” blog suggests some ways to give up something as a family. Here are a couple:
- 1. It would be meaningful to teach your children about fasting by giving up something for the entire Lenten season or on Fridays during Lent. It could be giving up desserts, not going out to eat, or drinking only water. The key is that it has to be something you enjoy and want to do/eat/have. If you hate brussels sprouts and decide to give them up during Lent, you may need to reevaluate.
- 2. 40 bags in 40 days. Instead of or in addition to giving up something for Lent, you could purge a bag worth of stuff every day during Lent. You choose the size of the bag, and you should definitely make it a family affair. (Unless, of course, you are purging toys or something, and then maybe you don’t want to get the kids involved. Ha!) Just think of how clean your home will be by Easter!
I would also add these suggestions for families looking for things to give up together:
- Technology– for a day per week or a set number of hours during the day. Potential things to include would be TV (or certain shows), iPads, Fortnite, and, of course, phones. Make it doable; remember, this is about lessening the control that our things have over us. Don’t get crazy and suggest everyone go without it for 40 days. That will get ugly fast and you will find yourself voted off the island.
- Instead of that weekly trip to get ice cream, take the money you’d normally spend and decide as a family where to donate it. It could be a special offering to a shelter or to St. Philip’s upcoming 6K for Clean Water project that’s happening in May.
Giving and Serving Together
During Lent, our church is collecting food items for Frisco Fastpacs which serves hungry kids in Frisco. At one of your family dinners get your technology back out and look up this organization and talk about what items your family can donate.
Bree, from the blog “The Imperfect Vessel” shares some creative ways to serve others during Lent.
Love on a Neighbor – Remember that whole, “love your neighbor as yourself” verse from Mark 12? Let’s take that literally and select a neighbor in and around our home to love on. Maybe you want to get to know them better and invite them to lunch or coffee one day. Whatever you choose, let it be out of love for another.
Surprise a Servant – Think of those who serve you in your daily life, from the mailman to the waitress at your favorite restaurant. Take a moment to write a thoughtful message and a word of encouragement in a note card, expressing your gratitude for what they do to help make your life easier. Depending on your ability, consider including a small token of appreciation by including a gift card that they can use to treat themselves or double their tip. A little surprise might be exactly what they need to lift their spirits and remind them that there is hope in humanity and in Jesus Christ!
Choose a Congregant – Is there someone at church that you know could use a little help or encouragement? Is there a recent widow who could use some company or a family who recently had a baby that could use a babysitter? How about a single man or woman who could use a word of encouragement during what is sometimes a lonely time in their life? Take a look around you and see how you can encourage someone.
Remember, Lent is for giving up things that keep us from God and doing new things that draw us closer to God. My prayer is that these ideas help you do that and grow closer as a family, as well.