Lent begins February 26 this year, which means there's still plenty of time to put together one of these easy, meaningful ideas. It seems that families do better engaging Advent than Lent and I think it's because Advent seems like a time of waiting excitedly for Christmas while Lent seems like a time of somberness.
There's truth to this. After all, Lent kicks off with a reminder of our mortality on Ash Wednesday. It's also often observed by giving something up, which adds to the weighty feeling of the season. However, this practice of slowing down and going deeper has tremendous value. By reminding us of two important things: life is not forever and God loves us beyond measure, Lent invites us to ask this question: does my life reflect the things that truly matter?
Lent gives us a framework to try the things we always say we want to do. Live more simply. Ask important questions. Read our Bibles regularly. Practice meditation or centering prayer. Spend meaningful time with our children. Eat better for ourselves and the planet. These are all traditional practices of Lent.
Rather than thinking of Lent as a trial we have to go through to get to Easter, we can think about it the same way we might think about the Whole 30, or "30 Days to Simpler Living," or any of the challenges that kick-start better living. These challenges are plentiful because they work. They're meaningful, time-limited and challenging. By focusing intensely on something for four weeks, we learn how much we can do. Even if we go back to eating carbs, or collecting a little too much clutter afterwards, we've evaluated what matters and practiced living better.
Lent is like that. Hard? Yes, if we do it right. But meaningful? For sure.
There are a couple ways I like to talk about Lent with kids:
1. You can talk about it as a challenge. Younger kids might not be steeped in the culture of workout challenges, clean-living plans or decluttering calendars but they still understand the idea. You can explain Lent as a time when people challenge themselves to live better.
2. You can also explain Lent as a time of "getting ready for Easter." If you observe Advent, this language is probably familiar.
Speaking of Advent, I think it's helpful to observe Lent the same way you do Advent. If you do Advent candles, do Lent candles. If you do acts of service for the days before Christmas, do acts of service the days before Lent. This is embodied theology. Simply by doing it, we teach kids what it means.
With that in mind, here are eight easy practices for Lent, curated from some of my favorite places on the internet:
Candle lighting. I love this framework for lighting candles from Sacraparental. Seven candles are each accompanied with a short phrase, much like Advent candles are associated with peace, love, hope and joy. "We light the first candle to remind us that Jesus is wise." "We light the second candle to remind us that Jesus and the prophets make us brave." The full list is over here, along with readings if you'd like a devotional component.
- Donate Money to a Favorite Cause. We’re “Giving Up to Give to Others” in church this year so naturally this giving calendar is intriguing. Even better, it’s laid out like a board game. You can print it and mark of the days as you do them–or use game pieces for each family member and move along the board that way. Each daily opportunity is also fun. What kid wouldn’t enjoy, “Donate a nickel for each egg in your refrigerator,” or watching to be sure everyone adds two cents to the donation pot for every text they send? (This one is from 2015 but it's so well-done, I'd just cross off the dates and use it anyway.)
- Lent in a Bag. Some years I’ve given a Lent in a Bag kit for families in the congregation and they're always intriguing for the kids. This one at Build Faith is nice and has good instructions for home. Kids love kits. If you wrap these items up in a cute bag or box and present it on Ash Wednesday, they'll have fun unpacking the items. Set them on your dining room table so you see them every day. Take turns unwrapping the package and setting out the items during your family time.
- Eat Simply. The practice of eating simply during Lent is a wonderful way to shape the season. That's why Fat Tuesday, or Shrove Tuesday is celebrated--to get use up all the luxurious ingredients like butter and eggs. Even today, some traditions incorporate fasting. Others avoid meat on Fridays. More recent interpretations have proposed things like eating beans and rice for dinner throughout Lent. We know that moving towards a vegan diet is a concrete change we can make to ease the climate crisis. What about committing to eating vegan two times a day in Lent? Or one day a week?
- Serve 40 Ways in 40 Days. People often incorporate acts of service into Advent. Volunteers at food pantries and community dinners are plentiful. But people need fed all year long, so bring that spirit back in the spring with family service projects. Here's a list to get you started. If 40 Ways in 40 Days is too much, do a service project a week. (And if you go for all 40, I would love to know what you do!)
- Make Paper Prayer Chains. You know those paper chains that kids love to make? The kind that are used to count to the 100th day of school, or count down to a birthday? They're also fantastic observing Lent. You can start with pre-printed ones like these or create blank strips and have kids write their own prayers each day.
- Bake together. I accidentally started a family tradition when I made hot cross buns with my daughter on Good Friday when she was young. She loved it. If you have kids who like to cook, pretzels and hot cross buns are both Lent traditions. There's nothing more home-y than cooking together. That's why cookie baking is so popular in the Advent/Christmas season. What about experimenting with a different type of pretzel or pretzel topping each Sunday in Lent? It's playful and still creates a grounding ritual for the season. Here's a simple pretzel recipe and a hot cross buns recipe is over here. (Honestly, though--I think I just made rolls a little sweeter than normal and we piped some icing crosses on the top.)
- Conversation Starters. I saved this one for last because it's my favorite and I hadn't heard it before. Leanne Hadley has this wonderful, easy resource for creating weekly conversation starters for Lent. The questions are meaningful, like, "My favorite thing about you is..." or, "I felt really proud of you when..." Making them the shape of a heart reminds us that Jesus teaches us to love one another.
I chose each of these ideas because they're easy to put together but meaningful enough for six and a half weeks of practice. You could combine a couple of them but resist the temptation to do more than two or three. It's so easy to look at a list like this and think, "Those are all wonderful! I want to do every one of them and have the best Lent ever!" I promise, nothing good or holy or particularly grounded comes from this. (The temptation to go overboard and do it all is pretty much why Advent/Christmas is the chaotic season that it is.) Six weeks is a long time. Start small and then you can add something during Holy Week.
This post was slightly adapted from an earlier post on Rev. Amelia’s personal blog.