Yesterday my son Jack burst into the kitchen from playing outside, and, in his own way, announced he had found something to show me. He’s three, and he was so overcome with excitement that he couldn’t simply tell me with words what it was. He grabbed my hand to pull me outside.
He brought me to two tiny crocuses that had sprouted up in our yard. Our first flowers of the year.
As winter wanes and signs of spring pop up, catching us by surprise, we can’t help but respond with joy and delight as Jack did. It seems we were made to lean into the light, like a hothouse flower growing toward the window, positioning itself to catch any and all possible rays of sunshine.
The season of Lent begins this week, the time during which we lean toward Easter, positioning ourselves to catch as much light as possible. (This metaphor works beautifully, at least in the Northern Hemisphere, and at least until seasonal allergies catch up with us.)
Far be it from me to add items to the to-do list of a harried family with young children! But, though it seems contradictory, adding Lent to your list will end up creating more space for your family to enjoy the new life we celebrate on Easter and throughout spring.
To understand Lent, we first need to look at the church calendar, also called the liturgical calendar. The church calendar wisely invites us to walk through the life of Jesus each year, parallel to our other school and work calendars. Over the centuries and across the world, Christians commemorate these holidays and feasts annually, not just once in a blue moon. Just like children, we benefit from seasonal rhythms. We don’t just learn lessons once, and then we’re set for life!
You might be able to guess that Easter and Christmas are the two greatest feasts of the year for Christians. At Christmas we celebrate the Incarnation, that Jesus was born; and at Easter, we celebrate that he died and rose again. Before both of these major feasts, the church calendar sets aside time for us to prepare. Ahead of Christmas, we might light candles and count down with our Advent calendars. Prior to Easter, we prepare during the season of Lent, which begins on Ash Wednesday, about six weeks before Easter (40 days excluding Sundays).
If you participate now or grew up in a church tradition that observes Lent, you know that, to be honest, it’s not as exciting as Advent, especially for kids. Lenten practices and traditions are more somber. Lent lasts longer, and it hits at a time in the year where we’re kind of dying to move out of dreary winter. Which is part of the point.
Both Advent and Lent are times to make room, so that the celebrations that follow become even more meaningful, soaking in and springing to life within us.
Traditionally, the church observes Lent with prayer, fasting, and almsgiving (i.e. charity). All three are wonderful practices throughout the whole year, but we can add them to family life more intentionally during Lent. Here are a few ideas:
Incorporate a time for prayer that’s not already in place. You can simply pause to say a blessing before mealtime, kneel together for bedtime prayer, or read a Psalm together each morning during the Lenten season.
You’re not alone if you feel awkward praying with your kids. They probably don’t think you’re awkward. Just remember it totally “counts” to sing a prayer together, or to sit in silence together. (If you can get them to sit quietly with you while the egg timer runs out, you will be winning.) You might say the Lord’s Prayer or another one that you don’t have to compose on your own! Whatever it looks like, more prayer is good.
Giving something up is probably what we’ve all heard about most when it comes to Lent. Adults often use the opportunity to do without chocolate, wine (that’s me!), social media, or something even more creative.
As a family, you might talk together about choosing something to do without. For us, giving up treats and desserts would be a natural option.
These fasts could be something that you need to get out of the habit of anyway. One hopes you’ll not get back to gossiping with a vengeance as soon as Easter arrives. Or, it could be something that’s not inherently bad. You’re just choosing to do without it for a time, which gets us back to the idea of creating space. What to do with the TV or computer time you've chosen to give up? Consider prayer or charity!
On the flip side of giving something up during Lent, many people find it beneficial to take something on. Together, families might take on volunteer work, or send encouraging notes to family, friends, and teachers, for example.
Kids might enjoy it more and feel a sense of satisfaction if fasting and charity are connected. Each time we forgo our usual weekly ice cream outing, we'll have a few dollar bills for the kids to stash in a jar. (I never have cash; remind me we need to hit the ATM and make change before starting this beautiful process.) By the time Easter arrives, the family can decide together where to give that money.
If you’ve read or watched Marie Kondo, or seen an article about her rise in popularity, you'll probably agree that she’s tapped into an innate desire that we humans have for order and simplicity. We need space to breathe. We long to focus in on those things which are most important to us.
Easier said than done!
Whether we’re talking about our houses or our souls, this process of making room is life-long. Lent offers another opportunity this year. Whether or not your family fasts, takes on a new practice of prayer, or gives to charity—even and especially if we don't "pull it together" this year—God will continue to give us opportunities to lean further into joy and celebration.
Coming up: In the next post, let's talk about using the senses to develop meaningful Lent and Easter family traditions.