Lent can be a hard season to get excited about. Surely it lacks the jingle and sparkle of Advent. Even more, it’s longer, falls right as we are getting sick of winter and, more to the point, involves sacrifice.
Further, it’s difficult to explain to kids. Most kids can understand the excitement of waiting for a baby to be born. Even when there is sacrifice involved in Advent, it’s surrounded by a sense of joy. Many of us have a much harder time giving our kids a good focus for the sacrifice that leads up to . . . the violent death of our Savior.
Below are some suggestions for activities that can (hopefully) help your family to embrace the three practices of Lent: prayer, fasting and almsgiving.
Prayer. Prayer is simply talking to God. The formal prayers of our Church are ways that Christians have been talking to God for hundreds, sometimes thousands of years. I think we need both “from the heart” time with God, as well as a way to connect with all those who have come before us (“formal” prayer). Here are some suggestions for ways to bring prayer alive for your family:
- For younger children:
- help them to tell God one thing they are grateful for and one thing they really need each day
- print off a children’s version of the Stations of the Cross (some even have coloring pages), and talk about one each day
- For older children:
- Read scripture (maybe the Sunday Gospels?) and have them tell you one line that stood out to them and ask them why
- Engage their strengths in learning the Stations of the Cross. If they are artistic, they can draw one per day or week. If they are writers they can write prayers for each station, etc.
- Find famous paintings of the Stations from different cultures and explore them with your children
- For teens:
- Encourage them to start a prayer journal that you won’t look at
- Use Lent as an excuse to get involved in a good youth group or teen retreat
- Have teens write a “teen stations,” relating one or more of the Stations to the difficulties that teenagers face
- As a family:
- Make a regular time to pray together. If that is totally new to your family, try just saying one thing you are grateful to God for each day. Other options are a family Rosary, a chaplet of Divine Mercy, a decade of the Rosary, or one Station of the Cross each day
- Use Stations the children have made (or print some from the internet) and put a small votive near each one around your home. Move around the house as you would around the Church as you pray.
- Choose a short Scripture verse that is appropriate for the season and say it after every meal. You and your children will have it memorized in no time!
Fasting. I think the key to successful fasting as a family is to explain to everyone what it’s for. When we fast, we give up a material good for a spiritual one. Even young children can understand what it is to give something up for someone else. For example, my son was terrified of getting a flu shot last year, but he found courage to do it when we told him that he was protecting his baby sister from getting the flu. We sacrifice out of love for God.
- For children:
- Make a “crown of thorns” out of clay or craft wire with toothpicks for “thorns.” Each time a member of the family makes a small sacrifice, they take a thorn out of Jesus’ crown. This is a way of connecting their sacrifice to love for Jesus.
- For each sacrifice, children get to put jellybean in a jar . . . that they can eat during the Easter season!
- Remind children that sacrifices should be something they like that they are giving up, or something hard for them to do (i.e. doing what mom asks the first time they are asked!) Varying the sacrifices can keep it from being too burdensome, and can help children start thinking of ways they can sacrifice for others.
- For teens:
- Have your teens consider giving up video games, iPad, Facebook, cell phone time (for non-essential purposes), etc. If the prospect of being unplugged for 40 days is too overwhelming, maybe consider unplugging on Fridays. Hint: agree to do it with your child!
- Ask teens to help plan and prepare the Friday meatless meal. They may enjoy looking into meatless meals that are a staple for other cultures.
- Invite your teen to “give up” a treat that costs money such as a movie out with friends, a snack after school, etc. Put that money in a jar and allow them to choose the charity for donation.
- For families:
- Choose one night a week during Lent to be family night, where all activities are cancelled (this may take some serious effort!). Use the time to pray a little bit, then either play board games or watch a movie with a good message that will inspire conversation.
- Join in with one of the other activities above.
- Consider one thing your family can “give up” together.
Almsgiving. Almsgiving just means serving others out of love. Several of the suggestions above for sacrifice could be used for this as well, but here are a few more:
- Parents “pay” for each sacrifice, putting coins in a jar for each good deed. Alternately, if there is a behavior your family is working on changing (for instance, saying “Oh my God!”), each member of the family can put a quarter of their own money in each time they say it! The money then goes to a charity of the family’s choice.
- Skip a meal out in order to buy your family’s favorite groceries for a food pantry.
- Volunteer together at your favorite organization together.
- Practice “deliberate acts of kindness” within the family. You can even do a Lenten spin on the “Advent Angel” idea, having each member do secret, thoughtful deeds for another family member.
Obviously, this is not an exhaustive list, nor could any family handle everything mentioned. I hope it has gotten you thinking, though, about what will best help your family grow in holiness. Happy Lent, everyone!