Family Practices for the Lenten Season

Blow the trumpet in Zion;
consecrate a fast;
call a solemn assembly;
gather the people…
gather the children,
even nursing infants…” (Joel 2:15-16)

For those of us who follow the rhythms of a church calendar, Lent is a special time of remembering one’s own mortality and need for Christ. And, whether one follows the church calendar or not, Christians everywhere agree that it is vital to pass on our faith to our children.

If you are like me, you never observed Lent as a child, and it was not until adulthood where I began to incorporate such things. So now that I have children, I have no memory to build upon. I also am posed with a dilemma—I want my children to appreciate observing Lent but don’t want it to become meaningless for them in the future.

Thus, the question during the Lenten season must be: how do we pass on the importance of Lent to our children in a meaningful way?

I would like to suggest a few ideas for your family this Lenten season.

  1. Take Away…and Add. Lent is a time for fasting. But you don’t need to just take away something (that is important!). For one thing you take away, add something worthwhile. As a family, pick something from which to fast—TV after dinner or in the morning while getting ready for school, eat a vegetarian diet on Fridays, or remove unnecessary sugars. Then add something—Bible lesson after dinner, prayer before school in the morning, or confess your sins against each other one day a week.
  2. Be Present. Make a conscious effort during the Lenten seasons to remove distractions and to be present with your spouse and children. If you are like me, it’s easy to get into the hustle-and-bustle and forget about what’s important. Put the iPad away and sit on the floor with your kids or have tea with your spouse. One day, you’ll be happy you did.
  3. Point to Jesus. We don’t want to forget in some traditions that on Ash Wednesday it is said by the distributor of ashes: “Turn away from sin and be faithful to the Gospel.” Find ways to remind your children of their need for Christ. Before my kids go to bed, I often say to them: “Mommy and Daddy love you but so does Jesus. And that’s more important.” Our families must be reminded that Lent leads us to Easter.

My dad used to say: “Children follow their mother’s religion but their father’s attendance.” This may rub some of our more liberal understandings of gender roles the wrong way. However, let’s not miss what is being said—Parents must be on the same page and model their faith to their children.  If one spouse groans about the fasting, your children will groan about fasting. Let this be a reminder to us: If we as parents do not model the importance of Lent, our children won’t have any desire to participate.