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Family Lent

By Sam Tunnell
February 28, 2017

This week marks the beginning of Lent. If you grew up in a liturgical home, you probably already knew that. On the other hand, if you grew up non-religious or, like me, in a conservative non-liturgical Christian home, you might have missed this coming season in the church calendar. If you don’t know, Lent is the season that leads the church into the Easter season. It is designed to prepare us for the celebration of resurrection and Gospel that is Easter Sunday. So how do we prepare for this celebration of life and wonder that is Easter?

By reflecting on death and loss.

During this season we reflect on the words of Jesus in John 12:24.

Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.”

When he said these words, Jesus was preparing for the glorious triumph of his ministry. Although he was about to fulfill his express purpose on this earth, he knew that the glory of resurrection would only come after the agony of death on the cross. So just as Jesus walked through death on the road to life, we contemplate death and loss as we prepare to celebrate life. Even the very earth itself seems to join us in this celebration of Christ’s victory as cold, dead Winter gives way to warm, lush Spring. And just as Creation intentionally celebrates the Creator’s triumph, it behooves us to do the same, through the tradition of Lent.

So what does this mean for us? How can our families intentionally engage in this season of preparation as we walk toward the beauty that is Resurrection Sunday? Traditionally, the burden of Christ’s loss and death is symbolized in Lent by our own physical sacrifice. We choose to willingly give up something good and pleasurable during the season, and that sense of loss connects us in a small way to Christ’s suffering. It might seem silly to explain it like that (how could eating fish, for example, ever compare to Christ’s sacrifice), but anyone who has participated in this season with reverence and intentionality can attest to the power and closeness these small sacrifices can make during the season. There is something distinctly sweeter about the celebration of Easter Sunday after an intentional observance of Lent.

This fasting can be individual or done as a family, and the things chosen to sacrifice can and should vary from family to family. Whatever you choose, it should be enjoyable enough that you notice and feel the loss during the week, and celebrate its return on Sundays (yes you only fast Monday through Saturday during Lent). Some examples might be watching television, or eating out, or sugary drinks. Your fast should also be partnered with some added spiritual disciplines. There are many excellent Lent devotionals that your family can walk through alongside your fasting. Desiring God has an excellent one you can find here. Tim Keller has written an excellent one you can find here. And of course there is the excellent Story Catechism.

Regardless of how you do it and what resource you use, the church calendar provides wonderful built-in opportunities for your family to engage the gospel in tangible and memorable ways. It is powerful and important to teach our children the truth of the gospel story, but this must never be divorced from the adventure of inviting them to participate in the gospel story. We can tell our children that Jesus suffered and died to give us joy and life and we should. It is, after all, true and, Lord willing, it will impact them. My family and I are combining that telling with showing a little of what that sacrifice means by giving up all drinks in our own home except water for 40 days and taking the money we would have spent on juice, tea, soda, & coffee and donating it to a clean water ministry.

Shane Claiborne warns that boredom is the most dangerous poison to faith among the affluent. We would be wise to listen to this warning. Our insular lives can easily take the powerful, subversive, gritty story that is the gospel and dilute it down to bland, easily repeatable truths. We want our children to believe in Jesus, but we also want them to follow him. This Easter season, let us give them tangible and memorable opportunities to do just that.