1. Fast, But Not On Sundays
I really struggled with deciding whether my kiddos (9 and 6) should fast for Lent, aren’t they too young? However I remembered that I’d read that during Lent you’re actually meant to relax your fast on Sundays, to celebrate the “Little Easters” that they are.
Here in France there is the tradition of the ‘gouter’, the little snack that children have after school. This is normally a pastry or biscuit. So last night as we sat down for our evening meal (my hubby is home after 6 weeks – woohoo) we discussed what we should do as a family for Lent. We decided that we would forgo the sweet nature of the gouter and substitute fruit for it, but on Sundays we would bake together and have a cake or biscuits. This way they are fasting, but it’s not too much of a burden.
In our discussion we also spoke about the importance of taking the money that we didn’t spend on ‘treats’ and giving it to charity. Just over the road is a food bank, so we talked about going there and getting some information on what was needed. Of course my girls are young, so when I started talking about other people not having what we have my six year old interjected; “Yes, we can bring them flowers, and nice napkins, and cakes, and biscuits”. Part of the reason for going to the food bank and getting a list is so she starts to understand that I’m not talking about trimmings, but every day food. Which leads to my next point…
We try and say this each day as a family at mealtimes – especially the evening meal. But I want to start prompting the thought; “What did you miss today? What does missing it teach you?” In other words is it teaching you how much we have in comparison to others? So how can we be helping them throughout the year? If the answer is “I’m not missing the sweet things that much” then it’s good to discuss did they think the impact would be greater when they started? So often we don’t do things because we are afraid of them, when we have nothing to fear. That has to be a good lesson to learn for a journey with Christ, yes?
Make Sundays a true celebration, in preparation for the feast to come and a sign that even when things are ‘difficult’ God is always with us and this too “will come to pass”. Bake together, eat cake together – but you can also encourage the children to make decorations for when easter itself is here. Easter is the poor cousin of Christmas in our society, when it should be the joyous focal point. It is Good Friday, after all!
Sitting at Mary’s knee whilst she teaches them about her Son is a wonderful place for your children to be. As this is for young children, don’t try and do decades in one sitting. Just do a decade a week. With my little ones I choose a time (it used to be the drive to school, but I’m going to have to carve a new time out together) and then introduce them to one mystery.
Sometimes it would take a while to explain the mystery, the context of it and its significance to the girls and we wouldn’t do the prayers that day, but we might quickly review it and do the prayers the next day. That way the time spent is within their abilities, and you’re explaining things fully as well as giving them opportunities to solidify what they’ve learnt. In this way all four mysteries may be spread out throughout Lent.
6. Stations Of The Cross
As with fasting, and to be honest the sorrowful mysteries, I questioned if this should be done with children. We want to protect them and are scared it will terrify them. However although Christ’s death is unnerving to look at, you’re not showing them the passion of the Christ. They will take in what they can, and this will only be at the most surface level. However over the years their understanding will accumulate. I plan to do this with the girls as part of the Church in a service. However I probably won’t take my kids to a long Good Friday service as the time and material together would be too much at their ages.
Obviously at this age they’re too young to go to confession, but its wonderful to demonstrate your going and taking it seriously. When you go consider taking out a guide to confession and as a family review it – talking about your transgressions as well as encouraging them to think about theirs. It will form their conscience as well as enabling them to see the importance of this sacrament and how you value it.
8. Get Them To Serve Others
Jesus came to serve and calls us to serve – and it’s a challenge! People always think that when God ‘punished’ Eve with childbirth it’s the pain of it that’s the punishment. I alway think it’s the life of service to another, which is what motherhood is. Sometimes I find myself balking at it and the expression attributed to Lucifer comes to mind; “I will not serve!”
So encouraging your children to be a servant to others now is enabling them to sow a seed of good practise for the future. Take them to their grandparents and get them to help in the garden. If there’s an old person in your road get them to ask if there’s anything needed from the shop when you go and, if it’s not to heavy, they can carry it to that person. You get the idea; you never know some of these things might even stick past Easter!
9. Get Them To Reflect
Give them a journal and get them to reflect on how the day went with scripture. At the end of the day ask them what they could have done better, then give them a scripture passage relating to this and have them write it down. Then they can write down what that means for them in relation to their behaviour.
10. Help Decorate
As I say above Easter is joyous! It’s the liberation from the world of sin. Decorate and celebrating once Lent is over will create in your children a joy for God’s salvation!