Lent is the Christian season, beginning on Ash Wednesday and ending with Holy Week, that encourages believers to pray, fast, and serve as a way to prepare their hearts for the celebration of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. The ultimate goal of Lent is to draw closer to God. Much like Advent prepares our hearts for Christmas, Lent prepares our hearts for Easter.
Not all Christian traditions place the same emphasis on Lent. I never observed Lent growing up, and 99% of what I know about Lent, I’ve learned as an adult. I have friends who take the season very seriously with daily devotions and family-wide fasting, and I have other friends who don’t really pay much attention until Holy Week. At our current church, we host an Ash Wednesday service, our pastor leads us through a Lenten series each Sunday leading up to Holy Week, and we have a few Holy Week services as well, like on Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and of course, Easter Sunday.
The depth and emphasis on Lent can vary widely in the Christian tradition and even in my own faith experiences, but here’s where I’ve landed: Do we as believers HAVE to observe Lent? No. Can it be beneficial to our spiritual growth? Absolutely.
So here are 8 ways you can encourage families to celebrate Lent, no matter your/your church’s tradition or background.
- Celebrate the Special Days – Invite families to kick off the Lent season with a Shrove Tuesday Pancake Party. Host an intergenerational Ash Wednesday service. Help them make plans to celebrate Holy Week (it doesn’t have to be complicated) or provide a special event that takes them through the events of Holy Week (like this one or this one). Making note of these special days in Lent can help families prepare for Easter and learn about the life of Jesus during his last days on earth.
- Fast or give up something – Fasting is probably the most common practice associated with Lent. It is meant to mirror the practice of Jesus, who fasted 40 days in the desert in preparation for his public ministry. We can help guide the families we serve through this season of fasting and prayer by intentionally teaching them (and their kids) about the spiritual discipline of fasting. This often brings up the question: should kids fast? We discuss this answer in more detail here, and you can find ways to help families understand the spiritual discipline of fasting here.
- Family Devotional or Prayer Time – If the point of Lent is to draw us closer to God, it’s not a bad idea to set aside special time with Him above our normal routine. If your church observes Lent, use something like this 40-day Lent Family Devotional to encourage families to spend time together in prayer and scripture. If your church doesn’t officially observe Lent or if your families wouldn’t know much about Lent, use a devotion like An Easter to Remember or Letters From Jerusalem. Or if you are looking for something just for Holy Week, Lead Me to Jesus offers a 9-day Holy Week family devotional with hands-on activities for kids. Providing solid family devotions like these makes it easy for your families to grow closer to God together during the Lent season.
- Memorize Scripture – When Jesus spent 40 days in the desert, he was tempted by the Devil. His response to all of the Devil’s schemes? Scripture. Memorizing Scripture is a great way to draw closer to God. Encourage families to memorize a new scripture each week or even 1-2 Scriptures throughout the month. These monthly memory verse cards or these must-know verses for young kids may help!
- Show hospitality – One of the best ways to connect to the heart of God is to live out His heart by loving others. Encourage families to prayerfully consider the needs of those around them, look for the lonely or the lost, and invite them in! Maybe each week, families invite someone over for a meal. Maybe they take time each week to write a letter or send a card to someone hurting or just to let them know they’re thinking of them.
- Simplify – Sometimes we have to give away or let go of things to make room for new things. Each week, encourage families to find something in their home to give away, like a toy the kids don’t play with anymore or gently used clothes. Or encourage them to cut back on spending/shopping and instead use that money toward the church or for a charitable organization. Use these donations as a way to serve the community. You could even encourage kids to do a little “spring cleaning” (and all the parents said “Amen”) and think of it as a prayerful preparation for Easter in the same way that Jewish families clean in preparation for Passover.
- Pretzels – Did you know pretzels have a long historical connection to the Lent season? With simple ingredients, pretzels were an ideal snack to eat during Lent in the 7th century, and their shape is supposed to mimic someone’s arms crossed in prayer (early pray-ers crossed their arms across their chest and placed a hand on the opposite shoulder to pray). Share a simple pretzel recipe with your families and encourage them to bake your own pretzels, or send home a bag of Pretzel Prayers to encourage a simple daily habit of Scripture prayers throughout the Lent season.
- Use resurrection eggs as Easter approaches – For those families just dipping their toes into this whole Lent thing, Resurrection eggs are a great place to start. Resurrection Eggs (like these) offer families 12 days of studying the Easter story and learning about the last week of Jesus’ life. They’re a great introduction to extending an Easter celebration beyond just Easter morning.
When encouraging families to celebrate Lent, it’s important to remind them that Lent isn’t just about giving something up. Lent is about making room in our hearts and lives for God to fill us up with His presence and His word.
Check out some of our favorite Lent resources + blog posts below.