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How to live Lent as a family: ways to help children understand the meaning of the season and some seasonal activities to reinforce the concepts.
BY Tom and Caroline McDonald
Never do 40 days seem longer than during Lent. I have tried to drum up enthusiasm in my children, to get them “excited” to think about their Lenten commitments. But internally I dread the whole business. Should I feel guilty?
Tom: I will be honest: Advent, I love. The weather has cooled off, and Christmas is right around the corner; the air is thick with cheer and anticipation of good times, gifts and family.
Lent, on the other hand, occurs when the Southern discomfort of heat and humidity is just around the bend, and the long march of sacrifice and self-denial begins. Not my favorite.
This attitude used to bother me. I felt guilty about it, thinking that it indicated a lack of gratitude for Christ’s sacrifice for my sins. After all, if he was willing to undergo his passion and death for my sake, shouldn’t I be overjoyed to join my meager sacrifice to his, for such a short period of time?
But maybe I have it right, after all. Perhaps feeling tired and beat on Ash Wednesday was totally appropriate. After all, what better way to send the signal that “feasting” is over and Lenten fasting has begun? Ash Wednesday is the line of demarcation between seasons, and there is no mistaking that a transition has occurred.
So, then, doesn’t the fact that Lent is a grind all the way through make sense for the same reason? It is preceded by a carnival season of feasting and followed by an Easter season of Resurrection joy and, of course, more feasting! Doesn’t the sacrificial character of Lent accentuate the joy of those other seasons?
Finally, I remembered the example of Christ himself. While he willingly, obediently suffered and died for our sins, this act was preceded by his agony in the garden. Christ himself asked his Father if there were another way. But, ultimately, he prayed: “Still, not my will but yours be done.” We don’t have to pretend to like fasting — we just have to do it out of love and obedience to the Father, like Christ.
Caroline:In the eyes of kids, Lent can seem like a drag. But if we can encourage them to really sacrifice, Easter is so much more meaningful for them. McDonald Easter baskets always contain a ton of whatever the kids gave up, whether it’s bubble gum, cans of Coke or jars of peanut butter.
There are some wonderful Lenten traditions that families can adopt. Here’s a good activity for little ones: You can “Bury the Alleluia” until Easter. Each child creates/colors a page with “Alleluia” written on it, hides it somewhere in the house, then brings it out and displays it on Easter. All ages can appreciate a salt-dough crown of thorns for your dinner table. Kids remove a thorn each time they have made a sacrifice; the goal is a beautiful, thorn-less crown for the King by Easter. There’s also a sacrifice bean jar that will feature real jelly beans (or Reese’s Pieces in our house) Easter morning. And even our teenager loves the pretzels we make during Lent, which is a Catholic Lenten tradition dating back to the Middle Ages.
These small things can go a long way to help parents and kids reach “the peaceful fruit of righteousness” that St. Paul assures will come through self-discipline and sacrifice.
The McDonalds are family-life directors for the Archdiocese of Mobile, Alabama.
INFORMATION See our “Guide for Lent” under “Resources” at NCRegister.com.