Observing Lent with Your Family: Setting Expectations
March 3, 2022 | Betsy Ferrer
“Why is this so difficult?” I prayed. “You ask me to teach my children about you and I am trying. But it’s so hard sometimes.”
I wanted my family to prepare for Easter with Lent just as we had prepared for Christmas with Advent. In December, there was joyful anticipation each day as we read a Bible passage and hung the corresponding image on a small tree. But when I tried to do something similar during Lent, I was met with eye-rolling, foot-dragging and groans. Where was the reverent anticipation I envisioned? Each day it was a struggle to gather together to read the Bible, hang a picture and pray. Why was observing Lent so different from Advent?
Perhaps it was challenging because it was something new. We hadn’t observed Lent before and I was learning at the same time as I was trying to teach my family. Perhaps because no presents would be waiting on Easter morning and resurrection was somewhat intangible to my young kids. Perhaps my expectations were not realistic (Reverent anticipation? Really?) and I hadn’t really explained to them why we were doing this.
With Lent beginning this week, here are a few things that I wish I had done when my kids were younger:
- Consider observing Lent by praying together, possibly alternating prayers of repentance with prayers for the needs of others. You can create a paper prayer chain for younger kids or text daily prayer requests for older kids.
If you want your family to fast during Lent:
- Quietly model fasting and explain to your family what you are giving up and why. “When I miss this thing or activity, I am reminded of Jesus. He gives me everything I really need. In those moments, I pray and thank him for who He is and what He has done.”
- Do not insist or beg your kids to give up something during Lent (even if you think it will be good for them!). I learned the hard way when I declared that not only would we fast, but that my kids would give up video games. You can imagine how that turned out! Ask your kids if they would like to fast. You cannot mandate the heart desire that should motivate a fast. If they want to participate, let them offer ideas on what to fast from. They may be more willing to participate if they are part of the discussion. If we want our kids to choose spiritual disciplines like fasting once they leave our home, they need to practice making these decisions now.
- Suggest an all-family fast, like giving up takeout or beverages other than water. Ease into the discipline of fasting.
- If your kids decide to fast, try not to police it. You don’t want Lent to become a battle over behavior – this misses the point. A gentle reminder may be helpful, but fasting is not something that comes naturally or easily to any human, so be patient.
- Remind them of the purpose of fasting. It doesn’t make us look better to God. “Fasting helps me focus on Jesus without other things that distract me. He is the BEST thing.”
If you as a family are spending extra time with God, you can:
- Read through a devotional together (Jesus Storybook Bible: Lent guide for young kids, A Jesus Easter for elementary, Trail to the Tree or Bitter and Sweet for teens):
- Choose something that is not too difficult for the ages of your kids. Keep your time together simple, especially if this is not part of your regular routine.
- Keep trying! God promises that reading His Word will bear fruit. Trust that the Spirit can work through the reading and hearing of the word, even if you don’t see immediate “results” (ie. kids are pinching each other while you are reading the passage). Be faithful to plant seeds, only God can change our hearts.
- Serve together: serve on the Welcome Team or usher together at Stone Hill, help neighbors or volunteer in the local community.
- Think about attending a Seder dinner together. Find one that focuses on Jesus as the Passover lamb, or host one yourself.
Be patient with your kids and yourself, don’t give up. If one way of observing Lent turns out to be untenable, choose something else. No matter what you do, keep your eyes on Him (Hebrews 12:2)!