In Louisiana our kids get school breaks for Mardi Gras and Easter, but they may not understand the Lenten season between those two holidays or Ash Wednesday that begins the season.
As a Catholic health system, we know Lent is about so much more. Sharing the Lenten journey with children can be a chance to connect as a family, as kids can respond more deeply with the story each year of childhood as they grow. Rob Tasman, vice president of Mission Integration for Our Lady of Lourdes Health, shares more about what Lent means and offers ideas for families to mark the season.
Practical Ways to Recognize Lent
Explaining Lent to children can be a bit difficult without acknowledging the season in practical ways.
Many tend to focus on the death and resurrection of Jesus in communicating Lent to their children. This is appropriate and authentic in terms of Lent’s theological significance. Others put an emphasis on the tradition of “giving something up” for the season as a way to be reverent and call attention to the sacrifice Jesus made on the cross.
The challenge lies in communicating both of these in a manner that invites young children into the spirit of Lent. We can make Lent approachable to kids no matter where they are in their faith development. Tasman says he has always found it helpful to be both as honest and age-appropriate as possible. How you communicate always differs based on the developmental stage and age of your children.
The three traditional elements of Lent are prayer, fasting and almsgiving, which can be adopted in different ways depending on your children and family dynamic.
“I highly encourage families of faith to partake in the celebration of Ash Wednesday, which ‘kicks off’ Lent, and especially the Triduum of Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter Sunday,” Tasman says. “Worshipping together as a family during this three-day period truly brings to light the meaning of it all thanks to the intentionally structured liturgy sharing the Biblical events.”
In terms of prayer, praying the Stations of the Cross can be a powerful exercise. Depending on a family’s proclivity toward traditional prayer, praying the Rosary together can also be incredibly spiritually life-giving.
Tasman says he would challenge all to simply live your life as a prayer. Live in such a way that the essence of the season of Lent is palpable and felt by those who come in contact with you. Live in ways that are oriented toward service, compassion, humility, kindness, reflection and directed toward the other – especially those most in need.
What Lent is All About
At its heart, Lent is the culmination of the Christian story, intimately tied to salvation.
Lent is about the amazing Love that both God and Jesus has for all of us. It’s a season in which we remind ourselves about the true meaning of our faith. It’s a time when we can challenge ourselves to be more prayerful, kind, generous, charitable and loving toward one another.
Lent is a time of sacrifice, meaning that it’s not all about us all of the time. Lent is about good overcoming evil and light overcoming darkness. From this vantage point, parents can build messaging as their children grow, trusting that they know what is best to reveal at each stage along the way.
One of the beautiful aspects of having children is their inquisitive, curious nature. Parents can encourage this since it leads to sound critical thinking and stokes imaginations, which can connect to strong emotions such as sympathy, empathy, justice and compassion.
“Many of the questions my wife, Katie, and I have received from our four boys over the years are bigger ‘Why?’ questions,” Tasman says. “We have always found a great way to begin to answer any question is to see how our children are processing the topic.”
An easy way to explore, Tasman says, is responding with a question: “What do you think?” This gives parents a few moments to catch your breath, compose yourself and then attempt to piece together your best shot at a cohesive, meaningful answer.
Asking the Questions
Tasman’s wife started a daily tradition with their boys when they were little. Before going to bed Katie asks two questions:
- What was the best thing that happened to you today?
- Where were you not the best version of yourself today?
After listening to the boys recount the greatest things that had happened to them and to be challenged to think of those times that they fell short in their day, the family ends collectively in prayer by saying, “Thank you for those things that were the best today, and forgive me for the times that I wasn’t my best. Amen.”
This connects Tasman’s family back to knowing that even with the story of Lent, there is the best of humanity and the worst of humanity all in one.