Lent through a child’s eyes
Depending on your tradition, the observance of Lent might play a big part in your year. The 40-day period before Easter (not including the six Sundays after Ash Wednesday) mirrors the 40 days Jesus spent in the wilderness before beginning his ministry (see Matthew 4:1–11). It is a time of solemn preparation through prayer and reflection before the celebrations of Easter Sunday.
In popular culture, Lent is reduced to giving up chocolate or alcohol – a mechanism to improve your life through abstaining from something ‘bad’, rather than a time of spiritual preparation. As we approach Lent, what is your view of the season? What about the view of the children you work with?
How can we engage children in this time of reflection and preparation? Well, to start with, you could explore the Bible story, either in church groups or in families at home. Read the passage together or find a retold version of it – there’s one in The Big Bible Storybook (SPCK) or The Action Bible (David C Cook). Ask some simple questions about what the children like or dislike about the story, what surprises them, why they think Jesus does and says what he does. Don’t impose your own ideas, rather let the conversation flow and bring about new revelation about the story.
This time in the desert wasn’t easy for Jesus, but he was never alone – he had just been baptised and had his Father’s affirmation spoken over him. It was from that place of strength and confidence in his identity that Jesus went into the desert. In the same way, Lent is a season where we can be reminded of what God says about us, especially as we reflect on the message of the cross and the relationship that Jesus enabled for us with the Father.
So although the giving up of something or changing of our normal routine in some way might not be the most fun thing, the point of it is to strip away things that can distract us from who God says we are. Especially in this culture that bombards us with so many different material things, it can be helpful to strip something away to remind ourselves of these truths.
Young people have more agency and are able to choose to mark the season by taking a break from Instagram or reducing their mobile phone use. Children on the other hand aren’t able to take many practical decisions about their own life; it would be difficult for a child to decide to give something up without the full cooperation of their parents or carers. Giving something up isn’t really an option for children (and might not be healthy for them either).
It might be worth exploring what children and take up, rather than what they can give up. For a few years now, Stewardship has run its 40acts initiative. People sign up to receive a daily email containing a biblical reflection and a challenge based around generosity, giving and supporting others. You try to complete that challenge during the day before moving onto the next reflection and challenge on the next day.
However, a different challenge every day would be a lot for children and their parents or carers to manage. Faith at home expert, Victoria Beech, often says that you should introduce one new thing at a time. You’re much more likely to succeed than if you filled your time with loads of new things, before collapsing in heap and not seeing any of them through.
What one thing could you encourage the children you work with to do? It might be challenging families to think about what they are thankful for, perhaps at a mealtime or before bed. It could be reading a few verses of the Gospel of Mark each day, aiming to read the whole thing before Easter. Perhaps you could collect small change over Lent for a local foodbank? Why not get involved in the Diocese of London’s Lent Appeal?
Get in touch on Facebook or Twitter and let us know how you’re getting involved in Lent!
Joint material by Alex Taylor and Katie O’Conor, from the Children’s Ministry Team, Diocese of London