We are a week and a half into our observance of the season of Lent, so I thought I’d share some practices that are working with my family and see if y’all have tips you’d like to share as well. As much as I love the Lenten season, it can be kind of a tough sell with kids. They tend to love a feast more than a fast, so finding practices and observances that have been both doable and meaningful for my two has been a bit hit and miss. So far, here is what has worked and what we are still finding our way in.
Sharing with the poor has always been a big focus of our family Lenten practices. Kids get how to share with others, they just don’t always want to do so. Since generosity is a major part of how I read the Easter story (what could be more generous than giving one’s life for another in love?), it is something we come back to again and again.
We are fortunate that our church provides an easy way to encourage our kid’s generosity. “Mite boxes” are handed out at the beginning of Lent for the kids to save up spare change and dollars in. Teachers explain how the money collected in these boxes will be given to those recovering from poverty, specifically natural disasters. The children are encouraged to bring the giving boxes back on Easter Sunday. My favorite years have been those where the mite boxes have gone into slots on one side of a cross and flowers have been placed in wire on another. That way the kids can see how sacrificial giving done in love leads to beauty and joy.
The kids of course do not always love to let go of their money. I tried to help them take ownership of the boxes by allowing our crafty girl to decorate her own mite box (because everything is better with polka dots) and by not micromanaging how much or how often our son gives to the box. This year I’ve gotten my own giving box so they can see my example of giving as an added encouragement. It is still never an easy sell to ask them to give up part of their allowance, but it is a practice we continue to pursue.
I am not really that great at fasting (are any of us?), so this one is a bit hard to teach. I have never had them fast from food outright, though we do ask them to choose one item to fast from during the six weeks of Lent. We talk about some of the options ahead of time and I share with them what my fast will be. They often choose to give up candy, or even just some form of candy. This year I tried to connect the fast with the almsgiving by suggesting they give up something that they spend money on with some regularity and then put that money in their giving boxes. My daughter quickly made the connection that if she gave up getting her weekly icey at their school’s Frosty Friday, then she would have a dollar a week extra to give to those in need. My son chose to give up the candy and gum he normally buys when we are in the checkout line at the grocery. We’ve struggled a bit with walking the fine line between encouraging them and letting them own their journey. If they slip up and forget that they were fasting, we are careful not to chastise them. The main idea I want them to walk away from Easter with is that of grace, so I think it is important to give that in the midst of the ups and downs of our spiritual practices.
One of the biggest things we’ve tried to fast from so far is our own busyness. If we are all tired at the end of the day, then we skip swim practice. Yesterday after having a busy weekend, we decided to stay home from church and rest. We’ve had more slow dinners with devotional readings or candlelight. We’ve taken more walks with the dogs. Out of all our practices so far, the grace of slowing down has been my favorite. I have found that in the space and the silence, the kids have found a freedom to share more of what is going on in their lives and minds and even to talk more about what is going on in their hearts. There are moments when I’ve been really surprised to hear what they’ve been thinking about or struggling with. I am truly looking forward to a few more weeks when we give ourselves the grace to say no to extra obligations and to find time for rest and reflection.
It has also been a tradition of our to start our garden during Lent. This year we actually planted some seeds on Ash Wednesday in clear cups, so we could see the germination process happen. We usually put the garden in properly on Good Friday. It is hard for me to find words to explain the crucifixion to my children. I do not care to emphasize the blood and pain and gore of it all to them. Frankly, I do not think that is the point of it all. So we have gone with the metaphor of how a seed has to go into the soil and die for the plant to be born and grow. I know it is not a perfect illustration, but it does show how sometimes something has to go dormant and appear to die for something new to rise up and flourish. Another metaphor I’ve heard of people using is the caterpillar/butterfly transformation. That would be a ton of fun for kids, I’m sure. We just have gone with the seeds since we don’t have ready access to caterpillar’s and we are gardening this time of year anyway.
These are the traditions and practices that are making Lent meaningful for our family this year. I’d love to learn what works for other families. Feel free to share in the comments!