Forming faith rituals
It’s not long before Lent starts. Lent always seems to arrive as a surprise in my life. I guess we spend so much time preparing for Christmas that Lent sort of sneaks up on us. Lent begins on Wednesday 22nd February, which is only seven weeks into the new year.
You might feel like you’re just getting going in 2023 when you need to begin preparing for Lent. Sometimes we feel the need to embark on some great spiritual journey, but I’d like to say that you don’t have to. You should not have feelings of guilt when it comes to Lent, so if this year is already too much for you, if you have too much on your plate and you’re feeling overwhelmed, this is your invitation to not do anything for Lent this year. I would go so far as to suggest that your Lent this year is not doing anything for Lent!
The 40 days of Lent reflect the 40 days Jesus fasted in the wilderness and the 40 years Israelites spent in the desert. In the UK, Lent begins on Ash Wednesday and ends on Maundy Thursday, the day before Good Friday. (Some denominations and traditions follow a slightly different calendar.)
I don’t know about you, but I have never actually finished an Advent book in Advent and that’s only 24 days! Forty days is a really long while for an adult to stay with one thing and even more so for a child. Traditionally, the Sundays during Lent are feast days and you break from fasting on the feast days, so it’s actually 46 days. Last year during Lent, I read a book for my personality type in the enneagram. I must tell you that the chapters were only five minutes a day on Audible and I still didn’t finish it. I think I’ll pick that book up again this year.
I give you permission to not feel guilty for anything you didn’t finish.
However, don’t use it as an reason to not start something this year if you want to!
If you are looking for something like a book but found it hard to finish, maybe try an audiobook this year. You could ask a friend to read a book with you and keep each other accountable or find something shorter and easier. This Family Lent and Easter Planning Sheet might help your family stay accountable to each other as you plan what you might start.
My personal goal at GodVenture is to help families in their faith at home and over the years I have found that families often like to do something rather than give something up. Positive actions during Lent have been quite a popular thing in the last few years, so you might have heard of 40 Acts. They have a series of 40 ways to be generous through Lent. While their campaign is no longer happening, I have two resources about generosity available based partially on the resources I produced for 40 Acts.
If you would like to explore generosity in the Bible or take on a challenge of 40 acts of generosity during Lent (or as long as it takes you to do!) GodVenture has mini mag that is all about generosity.
Generosity is one of the one of the attributes of God that we really value in our family, so that’s one of the things I wanted us to focus on this year. In the centre of the mini mag is a giant poster and you get a whole load of resources to help you to do your 40 acts. There are also Bible stories to ground your generous acts and ways to think, chat and pray together.
However, I know for many families, looking at the Bible story might be just too much for you to do and that’s totally fine! So I’ve also made a standalone version of the generosity poster which just has the 40 different ways you can be generous. Some of these are really easy – say something kind to somebody, let someone else choose a TV programme – and some of these are more complicated – raise funds for your local for a favourite charity. There is a range of different small acts such as leaving a pound coin in a shopping trolley for someone else to find. You can tick them off as they do them (you don’t have to do them in order or do them all!) or use some smiley-face stickers to mark which you have completed.
You could share it with your friends who are not Christians and do it as a group, with one or more other families or people without children who are part of your circle. This will help you stay accountable to each other and be a lot of fun as you compare stories. My own family has found this is a really engaging way to do something and to practise an attribute of God during Lent instead of giving something up.
Counting down to Easter
We use Advent calendars to countdown to Christmas, but what about doing a similar thing for Easter? You could create a Lent calendar – if you have a reusable Advent calendar, perhaps you could repurpose that – or get hold of this one. It goes through the story of Jesus’ life with a little bit of Bible to read every day and a sticker to add to the calendar.
Scaling your activity
Yet, if even this seems too much stress to add in your life, then what about doing something once a week? Lent is six and a half weeks long, so get six pieces of paper and think up together as a family six things that you can do, one per week. Stick one piece of paper up each week, somewhere the family will see it regularly (on the fridge, on the back of the front door) and find one time during the week to do that thing.
These could include:
- Six creative ways you would like to pray together (ways that you haven’t tried before).
- Six people in the Bible to read about (from an actual Bible, a Bible storybook or on YouTube, depending on the age of your children – the Saddleback Kids channel is a good one to use).
- Six stories about the same Bible character to explore so that you can get to know them better.
- Six people to contact and encourage (you could make cards, deliver small gifts, pray for them, invite them to tea, make them a cake – whatever fits your family).
- Six games to play together as a family, as a way of ensuring that you spend time together.
Cut yourself some slack!
Life can be pretty bruising at the moment, and we’re having to make some difficult decisions about where we spend our money, our time and our energy. The leftovers of the pandemic are still with us and for some they are proving difficult to shake off. So be gentle and flexible with yourself. Know why you’re doing what you’ve chosen to do. Make sure it’s achievable and doesn’t put pressure on the family in a way that’s not helpful.
Lent is a time when we can focus on Jesus and what he came to do on this earth, and to prepare for the life-changing events of Easter. It shouldn’t be a time when we decide to do too many things to mark the season and create difficulties for ourselves, instead of connecting with Jesus. But, why not give Lent a go this year, however gently you dip your toes in the water?