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Should Your Family Observe Lent This Year? (And What Is It Anyway?)

Should your family observe Lent? What is it exactly? Whether you're Catholic, Lutheran, Methodist, or another Christian denomination, you can still observe Lent as a family.  These ideas, activities, and meals are great for kids and adults, and they include advice on what to give up and what to add in during this special season.

Most Christians consider Lent to be a Catholic thing and don't really give it much thought. But Lent is fundamentally a Christian thing, a preparation of the heart and spirit for the solemn event of the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus. It's a season of prayer, repentance, and self denial. 

The self denial part is never fun, but we can make it meaningful and important for our families without making it about legalism and rules.

Lent starts on Valentine's Day this year, February 14, so it's already time to start thinking about it.

Several years ago, I wrote a great post called 16 Simple Lent Activities for All Christian Kids. You should go read it right now, and then come back and read this one.

Are you done? Okay then, we’ll go on.

The thing I don’t like about my old post is that it takes sort of an all or nothing approach. You’ll have to grant me some liberties here, but I don’t think God is an all or nothing kind of guy. I mean, about some things (worshipping other gods) yes, absolutely – all or nothing.

But about cleansing your heart and preparing for the reflective occasion of the crucifixion and resurrection? I don’t think He is picky about how you do that. I don’t think you have to do something 40 days in a row to make it meaningful in your family.

I think you could do something weekly or even just a few times, and it could still have the desired result which is to teach your children about sacrifice and our Savior.

What is Lent anyway?

Lent is the period of 46 days (40 non-Sunday days) preceding Easter Sunday. In the Christian faith, it is a time of sacrifice, fasting, and discipline. It begins on Ash Wednesday (which is the day after Fat Tuesday or Mardi Gras, the day when believers historically purged their homes of fats and goodies to prepare for the fasting season).

A lot of Christians (especially Catholics, Lutherans, and Methodists) fast or give up something for the Lenten season. I have friends who give up candy, chocolate, or Facebook. They pick something they like, and they fast from it. It is difficult, and that’s the point. It hurts.

Why 40 days?

In the Bible, it says that Jesus fasted in the desert for 40 days and nights. After that time, He was tempted by Satan but withstood temptation.

Should we observe Lent?

I can’t answer that for you. Perhaps you should, especially if your family is in the grips of the gimme’s and can’t seem to find a way back to Jesus. But maybe it’s just another thing for you to worry about, and your plate is already full. If that is the case, Momma, I give you permission to not worry about it. Seriously.

Assuming you are here because you want to do something with your kids this year to commemorate Lent, here are some resources to get you started:

  1. Plan ahead. As I said above, Lent starts February 14 this year, so there are a few days to get things together. Get started with Lenten Planning Pages from my friend Lacey at Catholic Icing. Lacey is the resource for all things Catholic, and an entire section of her blog focuses on Lent.
  2. Add something. Instead of (or in addition to) taking something away from your life, add something to it.
    • Download A Sense of the Resurrection and do some of the activities to give your kids tangible, sensory-based, hands-on examples of the resurrection story. I reviewed this activity guide here if you'd like to read more about it.
    • Spend 5 minutes a day on a family devotional like Jesus Today for Kids. Each page is a short letter written from Jesus straight to your kids’ hearts.
    • Commit to praying for 5 solid minutes every morning after your alarm goes off.
    • Try Bible journaling and do it every Saturday during Lent.
    • Download the free Family Lent Devotional from my friend Jess at Gather & Grow. It contains a weekly devotional to do with the kids. I think dinner on Sundays would be a great time for these.
  3. Go meatless. Traditional Lent observance includes abstaining from meat on Fridays, eating fish or entirely vegetarian meals.
  4. Look for the good. Another gem from Lacey at Catholic Icing is the Sacrifice Beans family activity. It is super simple and not at all Catholic-specific. I’m going to get some big beans at Walmart this week.
  5. Read the scripture where Jesus went into the wilderness and talk to your kids about fasting. Practice fasting by eating lunch one or two hours later that usual – or skip lunch all together if you think they can handle that.
  6. Do an offering jar. As a family, place all your spare change in the jar for the entire season of Lent, and let your kids put it in the offering plate on Easter Sunday.
  7. Light candles. I love the Advent wreath tradition at Christmas time, and I am loving Lacey’s Lenten cross candles, too. We are setting this up for Ash Wednesday at our house. 
  8. Celebrate the Passover. Jesus celebrated Passover in what we now call The Last Supper. You can pretty easily put together a very similar meal for the week before Easter
  9. Hour of silence. If you can do nothing else, I promise you can handle this one. Jesus died at 3pm on Good Friday, so turn out all the lights and observe an hour of silence from 3 to 4 in the afternoon. Talk to your kids beforehand about the importance of respecting His death.
  10. Screen fast. Pick one day out of each week that you’re going to fast from screens – tv, phones, computers, video games, all of it. It will be hard, but you might find yourself connecting with your family in a whole new way!

Lent is about prayer and preparation. In the strictest sense, there is also deprivation and sacrifice involved, but as I said above, if that feels like too much for you, focus on the prayer and preparation and leave the sacrifice for another year. There are lots of options above and in my other post to help you keep this holy season at the forefront of your children's minds and hearts without fighting with them about sacrifice.

Let this be a season of holiness, my friend, and not a season of guilt. Remember Jesus and His sacrifice, and then rest in the grace He provided you.

Should your family observe Lent? What is it exactly? Whether you're Catholic, Lutheran, Methodist, or another Christian denomination, you can still observe Lent as a family.  These ideas, activities, and meals are great for kids and adults, and they include advice on what to give up and what to add in during this special season.

© 2018, Tara Ziegmont. All rights reserved.

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