For much of the world, Lent tends to be viewed as a second chance for that failed New Year’s resolution. An opportunity to finally lose those extra pounds, to break free from a bad habit, or to demonstrate our mental willpower. I definitely fell into this mentality during my younger years, patting myself on the back for how “hardcore” my sacrifices were and feeling good about my lifestyle changes.
But as I’ve grown and matured in the spiritual life, I’ve truly fallen in love with the spirit of simplicity and sacrifice which characterizes the Lenten season. As I journey to my own personal desert each year through prayer, sacrifice and almsgiving, I’m reminded of what truly matters in life and my spiritual life is re-invigorated. It’s a stripping away of all the extra stuff that daily crowds us and an opportunity to focus on the One who truly matters; an opportunity to die to myself so that I can rise again with Christ on Easter morning.
As my children grow and mature, I hope to pass on this same love for the Lenten journey. To ensure that it is more than just a compulsory 40 days of sacrifice, but rather an opportunity to learn about and fall more deeply in love with the Redeemer. This year with my eldest being three, I’m excited to really begin living our Lent as a family, making it an opportunity for us to grow in holiness together. I thought I’d share some the things we are doing, hopefully inspiring you with your own little ones.
Lenten Calendar – I’m no artist, but to help my children visually countdown the days leading up to Holy Week and Easter I created this simply calendar on a poster-board. Each day, we scratch of the day passed and count the days left until Easter Sunday, incorporating some learning as well. I’ve also marked special feast days that we will observe during the 40 days through various crafts and activities.
Crown of Thorns – This has been my daughter’s absolute favorite thing. We bought a simple wreath from Micheals and surrounded it with toothpicks, replicating the crowns of thorns. Then, each time she does a simple act of kindness (like sharing a toy with her brother) or is obedient I explain that her
kind act has helped minimize Jesus’ suffering and she get to take out a thorn from his crown. The goal is for all the thorns to be gone by Easter. She truly has loved this activity, constantly asking to remove a thorn. It’s also been a great way to show her how our actions correlate to Jesus’ suffering and to reinforce good behavior.
We’ve also been reading stories about Jesus through our Picture Bible to learn about Jesus and the New Testament stories.
Sacrifice Jar – Sacrifice is an important part of Lent. Just as Jesus went into the desert for 40 days of fasting and prayer, we are invited to make small sacrifices in order to deny our appetites and strengthen our will. This is a very difficult concept for a 3 year old to understand however. So we bought a simple purple vase at Dollar General that has been dubbed our “sacrifice jar” and a bag of black stones from Michaels. Every time my daughter wants something that she can’t have or chooses to give up something, I teach her to say that she is offering it up for Jesus and help her drop a stone into the jar. Daddy and mommy also contribute to the jar, encouraging us to make small sacrifices throughout the day. Then, for Easter morning I’ll replace the stones with jelly beans.
Prayer Tree: To encourage intercessory prayer, I cut small strips of purple construction paper and glued on slips with prayer intentions. These vary from personal to more general like world peace. In the mornings after breakfast, the children and I light our Lent candle and pray together, lifting up particularly one of these intentions. Then for me as an adult I’m reminded to pray for these things as I pass them throughout the day, helping me turn my daily actions into a prayer for others.
Finally, I procured nearly twenty-five library books on the true meaning of Easter so that throughout these forty days we can be learning together about Christ’s life-giving sacrifice. Already these simple practices have had such a positive impact on our family. It warms my hear to see my daughter’s excitement to pull out one of Jesus’ thorns or to drop another rock in the sacrifice jar. And for me it has been a simple reminder to spiritually enter the desert throughout the day, transforming the daily tasks of motherhood into simply opportunities for holiness. If you’re looking for a way to live out Lent this year with your own little ones, it’s not too late to employ some of these practices. And if you have additional ideas I’d love to hear about them in the comments below.