Keep it simple and straightforward. Then answer questions and approach Lent in a way that goes back to reminding them that everything God does is out of love.
The season of Lent is quickly approaching and maybe you are considering sharing this time with your young family but are unsure of how to introduce it. After all, it can be a rather overwhelming and complex concept to understand. That said, you still want to find ways to share this time with your little darlings, hoping to help them celebrate in a meaningful way.
Honoring and remembering the solemn events that took place during the 40 days that led up to the death of our Lord Jesus Christ can be a tender time to draw close to our families. It not only makes room for profound discussions to take place, but it gives us the unique opportunity to help our children align their hearts with the Father. How sweet is that?
However, this season can also be a confusing time for young children as they see their parents and older siblings retreat in prayer and fast, then attend church for a holy mass that consists of getting the mark of the cross on their forehead. As the season continues, disturbing their daily routine could cause an emotional upset or lend way to a growing list of questions.
So how do we as parents foster faith in our little ones and prepare their precious hearts for this season, all while explaining to them “why” we observe these Lenten traditions and customs?
Of course, there is a delicate balance, but there are ways you and your family can choose to honor God together.
Below are four key elements to share with young children, starting now, before Ash Wednesday, to help them gain a better understanding and embrace the Lenten season:
1. Jesus Death and His Resurrection
Explaining the death and resurrection of Jesus to little ones can prove challenging, as it is not an easy story for even adults to fully grasp. Try starting from the beginning with the birth of Jesus and why He came into this world. Talk about Jesus’ life and the purpose behind His mission to share the love of God and for all to receive salvation and everlasting life. Explain that Jesus' death was to give us a life with Him in Heaven. Share the meaning behind John 3:16. Keep it simple and straightforward. Then answer questions and approach Lent in a way that goes back to reminding them that everything God does is out of love.
Here are some ways to share the story of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection:
-Read children’s books on Easter.
-Retell the story with resurrection eggs.
2. Significance of Ash Wednesday
Ash Wednesday provides a symbolic meaning for believers and reminds us of human mortality, prompting us into mourning and repentance. This time may create a sweet way to open up with our children and share the significance of the life and death of Jesus and that we have a choice to follow Him and walk in His footsteps (Philippians 2:5).
The cross on the forehead represents a tangible visual that can help children understand the life and death of Jesus while focusing on the actions of their own lives. This is where we can invite our children to give thanks to God for our blessings and ask for forgiveness of our sins.
Since Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of the Lenten season, create a family chart, calendar, or countdown to Easter to help your young children understand this six-week period. Use symbols or write down the ways your family observes Lent. Each day you can come together for the three main purposes of Lent: praying, fasting, and almsgiving (service).
3. Importance of Prayer, Fasting, and Service
Your young children will need direction in understanding not only the importance of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving during this time, but also just how to pray, fast, and serve. Start by sharing that the Lent season lasts for 40 days because that is how long Jesus was in the desert fasting, resisting the temptations of the devil (Matthew 4:1-11). Explain that before He was put on the cross, He prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane (Matthew 26:36-46) and taught us the importance of our prayers. And because Jesus was a humble servant and came to show us how to tend to the needs of others (Matthew 19:21), we must emulate the same.
We can carry this out by praying daily with our children and helping them learn the Lord’s prayer (Matthew 69-13). Also, while they may not be able to fully fast, we can teach them to give up certain foods they enjoy during this time and only drink water, all the while reminding them of the prayer and fasting Jesus did in the desert and garden. Lastly, serve within your home, local community, and church while also looking for ways to be charitable to others. All the while, point back to the fact that Jesus is the model of being a humble servant.
4. Honor Holy Week as a Family
As we draw into the week leading up to Easter, we can begin retelling the significance of this most sacred time of the year by recounting the events that unfolded on each day, starting with Palm Sunday.
Palm Sunday: Read John 12:12-13. Share that palm branches were often used to celebrate victory. The people were honoring Jesus as the King. Ask: Do you see Jesus as your King? Have them make palm branches by tracing their hands on green construction paper and cutting them out then waving them around declaring, “Hosanna! Blessed is He Who comes in the name of the Lord.”
Monday: Read John 12:27-36. Jesus tells His disciples to be a light as He departs from them to go pray. We can also be a light in a dark world and share the love of Jesus. To drive this point home, turn off all the lights in the room. Tell them that without God the world is a very dark place, but when we shine a light (turn on a flashlight), it gives people hope.
Tuesday: Read John 13:1-17. Jesus washes the feet of His disciples as a way to demonstrate how we can humble ourselves and serve one another. Wash the feet of your child and tell them how much you love them and enjoy serving them. See if they will be willing to wash your feet.
Wednesday: Read John 13:20-30. Jesus predicts His death and the betrayal of Judas. This may be a difficult concept for children to understand. You can discuss a time they got hurt by a friend to help them relate, but explain that God’s grace covers our sins and He asks us to forgive others.
Thursday: Read Matthew 26:17-30. This is when The Last Supper took place. Break bread with your family and have a church-style communion.
Friday: Read John 18. Talk about how we mourn Jesus dying on the cross. You can make a popsicle stick cross or craft to symbolize the somberness of this day but what it also means for our salvation. They may have questions or remain quiet, but allow them time to let the reality of this sink in.
Saturday: This was a waiting period, as Jesus was in the tomb. This may be a good day to discuss any other questions or concerns your child may have and continue to pray for God to open their heart. Read an Easter picture book or watch one of the Veggie Tales Easter movies.
Sunday: Read Matthew 28:6. Celebrate that Jesus is alive. He is risen indeed! Praise be to God!
A Prayer for Your Family
Father God, as we celebrate this Lenten season with our families and young children, we ask that You make Your precious presence known. Allow us to find ways to use these traditions and customs to make our children aware of Your life, death, and resurrection and what that means for us as Your sons and daughters. We are so humbled and thankful for Your selfless sacrifice. Amen.
Photo Credit: ©GettyImages/FREDERICA ABAN
Alicia Searl is a devotional author, blogger, and speaker that is passionate about pouring out her heart and pointing ladies of all ages back to Jesus. She has an education background and master’s in literacy. Her favorite people call her Mom, which is why much of her time is spent cheering them on at a softball game or dance class. She is married to her heartthrob (a tall, spiky-haired blond) who can whip up a mean latte. She sips that goodness while writing her heart on a page while her puppy licks her feet. Visit her website at aliciasearl.com and connect with her on Instagram and Facebook.