Growing up, I had a friend whose family was Roman Catholic. Just before Easter, she “gave up” chocolate for Lent. I had a vague notion of its religious significance. But my family attended an evangelical church, and Lent was not in our lexicon. It was all just a bit suspect.
Preparation and repentance
Although history is a bit fuzzy, Lent is thought to have originated about 100 to 300 years after Jesus’ earthly ministry. It included a time of fasting and repentance, particularly among those who wanted to be baptized. It took place in the days leading to the celebration of Jesus’ resurrection.
Over time, the church incorporated Lent and its various practices into the liturgical calendar. Eventually it became what it is today: 40 days (plus six Sundays) preceding Easter, starting on Ash Wednesday and finishing the day before Good Friday.
The 40 days reflects the time period Jesus spent in the desert, being tempted by Satan. Similarly, Lent is a time to prepare our hearts for Easter through reflection, repentance, prayer and self-restraint.
“One of the goals of this season is to reveal habits or mindsets that may be preventing us from experiencing true freedom and wholeness,” writes Beth Bevis in God For Us: Rediscovering the Meaning of Lent and Easter.
“The restrictions imposed by the Lenten fast seek not to deny the goodness of the many blessings we enjoy in this life, but rather remind us that they are, in fact, gifts. Above all, a fast is intended to nurture a sense of gratitude to the giver and to encourage us to share these gifts with those in need.”
While some evangelical Christians may be a bit hesitant to consider traditions historically associated with our liturgical counterparts, Lent is worth rediscovering.
READ THIS: God For Us: Rediscovering the Meaning of Lent and Easter
READ THIS: Liturgy and Calligraphy – devotional and art series
Lent, like Advent before it, is a time to pause and reflect on who Jesus is and what He did for us. It is a time to examine our own hearts.
Participating in Lent as a family, or with the kids in our ministry setting, gives opportunity to explore in a deeper way what it means to follow Christ. Here are a few ideas to try with your family or with the kids in your ministry.
Often any mention of Lent is followed by the phrase, “So, what are you giving up?” As was the case for my cocoa-depraved friend, Lent becomes a chore, a kind of a fad diet leading up to a feeling of “I’m glad that’s done!” amid a chocolate bunny feast on Easter morning.
But rather than thinking about this as “giving something up,” think of Lent as an opportunity to “make space” for something else.
Self-restraint, or fasting, doesn’t have to involve food (and shouldn’t for younger children). How about a screen fast? It’s amazing how much time you have when you turn off YouTube, Netflix and Disney Plus!
MORE IDEAS: 40 Lent Activities for Families (Little Shoots, Deep Roots)
As we make space, be intentional with what fills it up again. Get to know Jesus more deeply, as a family. Read through a book of the Bible, find a Lent-themed devotional or try some kid-friendly activities that put the focus on Jesus’ life and ministry. Pray together.
VISIT THIS BLOG: A Lent Prayer Playlist (Grow in Faith)
SING ALONG: Sing through Scripture with this free DVD download (Seeds Family Worship)
READ THIS: The Way to the Savior: A Family Easter Devotional (Jeff and Abbey Land)
COLOUR THESE: Lenten Resources – Colouring Pages and Devotional Guides (Illustrated Kids Ministry)
Lent is also a time for a renewed focus on giving, as we contemplate how much Jesus gave for us. As you make space, consider how you can serve others. This could be supporting a local ministry, missionaries, or charity, but it can also include serving family and neighbours in a variety of ways.
WATCH THE HOPE BLOG SERIES: Raising a Generation of Servants
These Lenten practices help ready our hearts in these weeks leading up to Easter. And then, when Sunday dawns, writes Bevis, “we will be readier than ever to embrace the abundant life that Christ made possible for us through his death and resurrection.”
Kelly Rempel is the Director of Creative Communications for One Hope Canada.