Lent: What do the Children Understand?

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This morning F said to me “It’s almost Christmas.”? I’m not sure why, he said this, but I thought that perhaps he had heard us discussing Lent for this year and had gotten the calendar mixed in his head. So I said “No, it’s almost Easter, but first we have Lent.”

“What, “he asked,” is Lent?”

I was in the middle of something so I gave him the short answer, “Lent is the time before Easter just as Advent is the time before Christmas. I’ll explain more later.”

It got me thinking though: how do I explain Lent to a preschooler? and should I encourage them to some Lenten observance?

Like most modern people I turned to the Internet and quickly found a number of resources which I’ll list at the bottom of the page. There is a lot of material out there including liturgies for public and private worship and example of age appropriate Lenten disciplines. I will probably incorporate at least some of it into our devotions before school and into our family Lenten practice. I kept coming back to two thoughts though:

One was the importance of giving our children a true image of themselves. We tend both as parents and as a culture to spend a lot of time telling our children that they are “perfect” or that if they will only try harder they will be perfect. They aren’t and they won’t and they know it.

Part of being honest with them is to be honest about their faults and ( dare I say sins). When F is angry and throws his books across the room it important for us to explain that not only was that a bad thing for the books, but also that being angry and doing violent things is morally wrong (that is a sin). He needs to be encouraged (not brow-beaten but gently led) to acknowledge that he has done wrong and to seek to learn to control himself. He finds it very difficult to admit that he is wrong about anything. He always wants to be the one who is right whether about morals or facts and part of our job as his parents is to help him learn to be wrong. What better way to do this than for him to see the example of his community publicly admitting that they have done wrong? Ash Wednesday and Lent should serve as a powerful visual of that reality.

Secondly: Lent is a season of laying things down (and it is principally taught this way), but it is also a season of anticipation every bit as important as Advent. Just as we look forward to Christmas, the Incarnation, and the Second Coming throughout the weeks of Advent, so too we should be eagerly anticipating the Resurrection and our own joining with Christ in Resurrection throughout Lent. It is a helpful practice to give up “alleluia” during Lent but then Easter should pull out all the stops and put “alleluia” on our lips at every opportunity. I am tempted to come up with something like the Advent wreath for Lent, some visual to help us remember why we must pass through sorrow to enter into joy.

Lenten Links:

Ash Wednesday

Christian Education

General History of Lent with links

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