As a stay-at-home mom, I rarely know what the date is and sometimes have to actually think about what day of the week it is…although, I almost always know whether it is a gym day or a library day at kindergarten…go figure!
But…I *do* know that tomorrow is Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent!
Lent is the 40-day period on the Christian calendar leading up to Easter. These 40 days represent the 40 days that Jesus spent in the desert resisting temptation and preparing for his public ministry through fasting and prayer.
According to the United Methodist Church, “Lent is a time of repentance, fasting and preparation for the coming of Easter,” and is “a time of self-examination and reflection.” The UMC does not have official guidelines for how one should observe Lent, as it believes it is a personal time for spiritual growth. The UMC does, however, encourage members to consider observing Lent by adopting some type of Lenten “discipline.” Traditionally, these Lenten practices fall into one of three categories: fasting, praying, and/or giving. The purpose of these practices is to make time in one’s life to reflect on Christ’s teachings and to live them out more fully.
I was raised Catholic, so my family observed Lent by fasting on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, as well as abstaining from meat (other than fish) on Fridays. Fasting and abstaining kept us focused on preparing our hearts and minds for Easter, but fish sticks on Fridays is not the only way to observe Lent.
If you have been considering how to observe Lent in your home (on your own and/or with your children) but haven’t yet found a practice to strengthen your relationship with Christ, perhaps you will find some inspiration in the following list.
Activities For Mom (or Dad!)
- Eliminate or limit a food vice. This is usually done to remind us of the sacrifices Jesus made for us (His 40 days spent in the desert fasting and praying, as well as His crucifixion), but can also be a way of being a good steward of God’s creation: YOU! Some people choose to give the money that would have been spent on their vice (desserts, soft drinks, candy, alcohol, etc.) to a charity. Getting involved with the Daniel Plan small group could be a great kick-start to your efforts.
- Give up or limit social media or television. Read and/or pray during the time you would normally spend online or texting.
- Drop a bad habit. Consciously work towards complaining less, gossiping less, appreciating more, forgiving more, controlling your temper, etc.
- Join a Bible or Lenten study. Check with your church to see what is offered. PUMC is currently offering an Invitation to the New Testament Bible study as well as an Adult Lenten study group reading The Way, by Adam Hamilton.
- Begin a personal daily devotional. The Upper Room is just one of the many online and print resources available to guide you in this practice.
- Adopt an “attitude of gratitude.” PUMC just finished a sermon series and study group based on John Kralik’s book, A Simple Act of Gratitude: How Learning to Say Thank You Changed My Life. Begin expressing your gratitude in more intentional ways, like writing thank you notes or jotting down things you are grateful for in a small notebook or “gratitude journal.”
- Volunteer. Help at a food panty or soup kitchen, tutor a youngster, become a Big Brother or Big Sister, visit residents in a nursing home, etc.
- Clean house and donate. For an organized way of adopting this discipline, try the 40 Bags in 40 Days Challenge explained here by Sarah of Clover Lane. Use this purging to cleanse and renew your home (and mind) and help those who can put your excesses to better use.
Activities To Do With Children:
Note: Although repentance and self-denial are important parts of Lent, emphasizing these aspects may send a negative message to children. Instead, use this opportunity to nurture your child’s spirituality.
“The goal…in keeping Lent with children is to find ways to ‘engage them with God’ at a new level. It is a time to encourage them to stretch their spiritual wings, to try out new ways of praying, and to serve others in Jesus’ name.”
from Sharing the Easter Faith with Children, by Carolyn C. Brown
- Anticipate Jesus’ resurrection:
- Make a paper chain countdown. Remove a link from the chain each day to illustrate the passage of time until Easter. The following links include ideas to make this activity even more meaningful:
- Create a Lenten calendar. Make a calendar that indicates Ash Wednesday, each Sunday of Lent, and Holy Week, and let your child mark one spot each day (or print this one!).
- Revitalize your prayer/devotional routine:
- Learn a new prayer. Selecting a new bedtime or mealtime prayer can be a great way to get kids to really think about the meaning behind their prayers, rather than just reciting words without thought.
- Learn a new method of prayer. Do your kids know the 5-finger-prayer method? Do they have a breath prayer that they use? How about learning a new praise song or hymn as a prayer?
- Read the Bible daily. Read a different Bible story from your child’s favorite Children’s Bible each day. Or add some Easter or “God books” to your home library.
- Start a prayer/devotional/gratitude jar. This can take many forms. Fill a jar with either prayer starters or short prayers and read one together each day. Or leave slips of paper out for family members to write down people and things they are grateful for. Collect the slips and read them together during your Easter Sunday celebration.
- Food. Have your children help you pick one non-perishable food item to put in a box each day to be delivered to a local food pantry at the end of Lent.
- Money. Collect a daily offering to be given to your church or favorite charity (how about giving to Creekside Cares, the program that PUMC’s Sunday School and VBS programs are raising funds for this year?). Many churches provide members with Lenten collection folders to insert coins in each day.
- Toys/Clothes. Have your children sort through their things for toys that they no longer play with and clothes that no longer get worn. Donate the unused items to those who need them more.
- Time. As a family, find ways you can volunteer your time to help others. Depending on the age of your children, it may be appropriate to volunteer at a soup kitchen or shelter. Other ideas include picking up trash at the neighborhood park, making cards to give to nursing home residents, helping elderly neighbors with yard work, or preparing a meal for someone who is sick or injured. The possibilities are endless!
- Become a better steward of God’s creation:
- Make a bird feeder. Then hang it outside to help the birds in this late winter/early spring season. Here’s a tutorial on how to make one from fruits or veggies.
- Reduce/reuse/recycle. Brainstorm together ways you can take better care of the environment. Can you take reusable bags to the store or use them in lunch containers? Can you start composting? Can your kids create something new out of those food containers you would normally toss?
Will you be observing Lent this year? What Lenten “discipline” will you be practicing?
Note: The sites linked in this post do not necessarily fully reflect the teachings of the United Methodist Church.