Lent is a great time for kids: they love getting ash on their forehead, and they love the idea of giving things up. It is also a great time for dads: a real teaching opportunity.
When talking about giving things up with my kids, I use the sports metaphor. It is right there in St Paul where he writes of running the race to the end.
Kids know that if you want to run a race and win it, you have to get in training. That may involve giving up things you like – some foods, some lazing in bed – and undertaking some disciplines that you don’t enjoy – early morning runs, fitness work. But it is all worth it, if you value the goal highly enough.
By helping our kids understand that giving up good things can be a good thing, we also pave the way for their understanding of (for example) priestly celibacy. Some ignorant people still think that the Church is against sex. They have got it quite the wrong way round. It is because the Church sees sex as one of God’s greatest gifts that we recognise the holiness of those who give it up for love of God Himself. That’s serious training!
So help them to see Lent in that light: a time of training. But that is not all. Kids also understand about fiends being there for each other, and that is another aspect of Lent that one can explore: Our Lord suffered, so it is only appropriate, if we are to call ourselves His friends, that we should undertake to suffer too, and be glad to do so for His sake. And if we are His friend, we should talk to Him: which brings us to the second aspect of Lent: prayer. Lent is a great time to make a little extra effort to pray; so if you don’t already say one, consider praying a family rosary; and invest the time and effort in explaining the mysteries to them so that they have something on which to reflect or meditate as you pray it. And it’s a good idea for Dads to improve their personal prayer life at this time, too!
Something else kids really understand is the importance of saying sorry when you have hurt someone. If our Lenten penance is to mean anything, it must involve saying sorry to God, and that means going to Confession or Reconciliation. It is actually a law of the Church that we should go at least once a year, around Easter time, which makes perfect sense. Many churches make extra provision for this sacrament during Lent, so it would be good to take advantage of it: and as always, the power of example is critical here.
The other aspect of Lent, along with penance and prayer is alms-giving. We always involve our kids in the discussions about which charities we will give our Lenten alms to. We work out roughly what we will save by not spending on chocolate, alcohol, entertainment and whatever else we’ve given up for Lent, then add a bit, and send it off to the chosen charities. But alms-giving is not just giving money to charities: it may also be visiting a lonely neighbour – giving your time and a bit of yourself. Again that is something kids really understand.
So that’s the challenge for now: chat with your family about how to make this Lent really special, and then agree to hold each other to your good intentions!