6 Ways to Prepare Children for Lent
As a child growing up in a Catholic family, I always dreaded the liturgical season of Lent. For one thing, it felt endless, much, much longer than Advent (because it is). I didn’t want to do all the “extra” things I was told to do in order to make sacrifices for so long. Throughout my childhood, Lent’s focal point was on “giving up” something, usually candy or soda. I’d roll my eyes every Ash Wednesday, because that’s what everyone in my family tended to do – not eat candy for a full six weeks.
My parents would make comments in jest about needing to lose weight, anyway, so I assumed that adults just did what they wanted to do, or at least what they thought checked all the boxes of what they were supposed to do, for their Lenten obligations. Beyond that, not much thought or depth was involved in our journey to the desert with Jesus.
That’s how I see it now – a journey into the desert with Jesus. In our family of seven, we have people of varying ages and developmental capabilities to account for, so celebrating Lent each year tends to change. Here are a few simple ways to make Lent what it is – a time of emptying oneself of excess, a time of repentance, and a time of reflection.
#1 Fast from Noise
In order to prepare our homes and hearts for an interior renewal, why not choose to fast from noise as a family? This could include video games, television, YouTube, social channels, digital music, etc. It doesn’t have to be all of these things, or even any of what I suggested. But as I type this, the only sound in my house is that of Gregorian chant, a distant and sacred sound that fills the downstairs.
I’m thinking of replacing one type of noise this year with sacred music instead, or maybe even silence. And I am filled with excitement, in a way, to know that God will fill that silence with His presence and peace. Isn’t this what we all crave – more time, more peace? I can only fathom that emptying our lives of all the extra noise that influences and distracts us will bring about great spiritual fruit.
#2 Pray the Stations of the Cross on Friday's Following a Simple, Meatless Meal
Our family gathers every night for a specific prayer ritual. During Fridays in Lent, we pray the Stations of the Cross together, following a Divine Mercy chaplet or decade of the Sorrowful Mysteries of the Rosary.
I purchased 8.5 x 11 inch color posters on thick cardstock, each an illustration of one of the fourteen stations. That way, our younger children have an image upon which to focus their thoughts while we move through the story of Jesus’ Passion and Death. It is a somber, but necessary, way for us to turn toward the gift of Jesus’ love for us and remembering that He gave all of Himself – so that we might, in turn, give all of ourselves to Him, too.
#3 Make a Holy Hour Together
This might be tough if you have young children like we do, or kids with disabilities, like we do. Sometimes a well-intentioned and planned Holy Hour ends up being more like a holy ten minutes, but that’s okay. Long ago, I abandoned my unrealistic ideals about what family life or prayer should be.
There are Lenten seasons when my husband and I will alternate making a weekly Holy Hour, so that the other stays home with the younger children. Our oldest two daughters may accompany the parent attending Adoration. If so, we allow them to bring holy cards, a prayer book, or something that will guide their attention to prayer when they find their minds wandering, as is typical of all of us.
Eucharistic Adoration is powerful, healing, and strengthens us for whatever suffering may lie ahead in our lives.
#4 Go To Confession As A Family
In these turbulent times, I find myself dipping into a place of despondency quite often. I can’t watch the news or listen to podcasts about current events, because I get instantly discouraged. It seems, when I speak to anyone – even strangers – that all people are dealing with really, really intense hardships.
Everyone has a heavy cross right now.
In my own life, turning to Jesus in Confession gives me clarity, peace, and healing. The interior turbulence I find myself swimming in, caused by sin and prolonged stress, leaves me half the woman I know I am meant to be. But when I make an effort to frequent this sacrament, I grow in self-knowledge. God’s grace touches my soul in a way that nothing else can. This is a simple, but profound, Lenten resolution.
#5 Celebrate Passiontide
I’d heard of Passiontide when I was younger, but our parish never celebrated it. When Ben and I bought our first home and joined a parish, I was stunned as I entered the sanctuary and all the statues and Stations were veiled with a thick dark purple cloth. The visual of concealing these beautiful images startled me, yet turned me to a deeper appreciation and greater ease of meditation on the Passion of our Lord.
When we moved to a new town, Ben and I decided to celebrate Passiontide at home. I purchased dark purple cloth at a local fabric store, and we cloaked our framed pictures of saints, icons, and statues on our home altar with this cloth. The children, in turn, asked about what this meant. We explained that removing colorful and happy images from the life of Jesus helps us remember the suffering and death He endured for our salvation.
#6 Make a Sacrifice Jar with Coins and Donate to Your Favorite Charity
During Advent, our children love to put yarn “straw” into a basket “manger” every time they make a sacrifice for Jesus throughout the day. The goal is, of course, to make a nice, warm bed for baby Jesus. Likewise, some families use a bean jar during Lent, in which children place dried kidney beans, or some other assortment, every time they make a sacrifice for Jesus. On Easter morning, these beans “change” into jelly beans!
I thought about a variation of this that might address the almsgiving portion of our Lenten practice. Why not place loose change into a jar every time the kids (and parents) make a sacrifice for Jesus, and then decide as a family who gets the donation? It’s a twist on the traditional coin collection for the Catholic Relief Services Rice Bowl and can be easily modified to apply to a local charity, a neighbor in need, or your own parish.
Modern families struggle to find time to add anything into their schedules. I think the preparation for Lent should center around interior disposition rather than external behaviors. Even if you can incorporate one or two ways to grow in holiness as a family this Lenten season, it will bear fruit. Give God your meager offering, and He will multiply the graces you receive.