It’s one thing to observe Lent solo. It’s another thing to try to practice Lent with a family, especially if your family includes fussy babies, grumpy middle schoolers, or fantastically busy teenagers. For some parents, every day feels like Lent. You’re often laying down your life or giving up things that you love. When Ash Wednesday comes around, what can you give up when you already feel utterly spent?
My wife and I have felt all these things in some fashion with our two children and have been deeply grateful to discover resources that others have created in order to practically help families who wish to follow Jesus on this 40-day pilgrimage. The following five resources, which include books, downloadable apps, and creative devotionals, will offer families a starting point to practice Lent together.
Lenten Survival Guide for Kids: I’m Supposed to Do What?! by Peter Celano (Paraclete Press, 2014).
Written for elementary and middle school-aged children, this playful guide aims to help kids understand why they should care about a terribly big word that adults frequently take awfully seriously: Lent. Without talking down to them, Celano, an editor at Paraclete Press, offers children a chance to learn about such things as “What Lent Is,” “What Lent Definitely Is Not,” “40 Days of Survival Tactics,” and “A Few Prayers and Practices—Only for Kids.”
As Celano explains in this book, Lent is not about “giving up” silly things or about making sad faces to show how difficult life has suddenly become. It’s about learning to love God and to know who Jesus is and what it means to follow him—even as a kid! With Scriptures to memorize and prayers to say, Celano’s book is a wonderful opportunity for young children to embrace the season of Lent for themselves and not because, as many mothers and fathers may have uttered at some point, “I said so.”
Lent in Plain Sight: A Devotion through Ten Objects by Jill J. Duffield (Westminster John Knox, 2020).
In this short but sweet book about the ordinary things that Jesus would have encountered on his way to Jerusalem, author Jill Duffield suggests that God delights to work through the ordinary objects we encounter throughout our lives. Through a series of reflections on Scripture, Duffield explores Jesus’ final days by way of dust, bread, the cross, coins, shoes, oil, coats, towels, thorns, and stones. Each week, running from Ash Wednesday to Easter, Duffield shows us how God’s grace becomes tangible in the mundane things of our lives.
While this book isn’t written specifically for families, it holds great promise for children who wonder, for example, about the ways that dust might become more than something that collects under our beds, and that ash might represent something greater than simply the leftovers of a fireplace—they can function as signs of our mortality and as symbols of the things God uses to reveal his glory in the world. The ideal family for this hand-sized book is probably those with junior high and high school kids, though small children might enjoy looking at and talking about the illustrations, too.
Wild Hope: Stories for Lent from the Vanishing by Gayle Boss (author) and David G. Klein (illustrator) (Paraclete Press, 2020).
If Lent is an invitation to participate in the sufferings of Christ, as Gayle Boss writes in this lovely book, then that invitation extends to all of creation, inasmuch as Christ has died to redeem the whole world. Our journey through Christ’s passion, she argues, ought to give voice not only to our own groanings but also to the groanings of creatures who suffer the “pains of childbirth” together with us (Rom. 8:22). This includes endangered animals such as Chinese Pangolins, Polar Bears, Giant River Otters, Hawksbill Turtles, Ring-tailed Lemurs and Amur Leopards.
The delight in reading about these creatures, and the sadness that comes from realizing that they are endangered, naturally leads to confession as we realize the ways that humans have done a poor job of caring for God’s earth and its inhabitants. The hope that runs straight through the heart of Lent, however, reminds us that God’s new creation life is not just for us but for all the things that he has made. In Boss’s words, “Lent is seeded with resurrection,” and her hope is that these stories might help us to perceive how new life arises from death and ruin, precisely because God in Christ and by his Spirit is at work to renew all of creation.
Beautifully illustrated by the artist David Klein, the book’s stories are sure to engage the imaginations of children of all ages, but especially those who are over 5. The stories are short enough to read out loud and would make for marvelous conversation at the breakfast table or at night for bedtime reading. And since it’s only four stories a week, it leaves plenty of room to miss or skip a day.
“#LiveLent: Care for God’s Creation”is the Church of England's Lent Campaign for 2020. With weekly themes shaped around Genesis 1, this Lenten app explores the urgent need for humans to protect the abundance that God has created. It offers 40 short reflections and suggested actions to help individuals, families and church communities to care for God’s creation in practical ways. A wonderful feature of this downloadable app is that you can hear an audio recording of each day’s entry, not just read it, making it thereby possible for a family to listen together to the Scripture of the day, the short reflection, the action to follow, and the final prayer, along with a beautiful selection of music.
This calendar, created by Alissa Case from Chapel of the Little Way, is designed to be cut into squares and stacked on easily accessible locations like the dining table or bedroom nightstand. These squares could also be hung on a string with clothespins and taken down one day at a time as a countdown towards Easter. Ideally discussed in the morning, so as to practice the spiritual exercise throughout the day, this downloadable calendar is equal parts spiritual exercise and deck of cards.
Drawing on Jesus' teachings in Matthew 6:1-18, where he instructs his followers to pray, fast and give to the poor, the calendar follows the three traditional Lenten spiritual practices of praying, fasting, and almsgiving or serving others. The daily activities are wonderfully doable and variable, including such things as “Hold the door open for someone else,” “Throw away someone else’s trash,” “Cook dinner for another family,” “Smile at a stranger,” “Do a chore for someone else,” and “Pray for Christians in another part of the world.” Like #LiveLent , this calendar is immediately available once it’s downloaded.
W. David O. Taylor teaches theology at Fuller Theological Seminary and is the author of the forthcoming book, Open and Unafraid: The Psalms as a Guide to Life (Thomas Nelson: 2020), along with an accompanying set of prayer cards. He tweets @wdavidotaylor and posts Psalm-related resources on Instagram @davidtaylor_theologian.
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