Monday, February 11, 2013

Lent: Sacrifices and fasting for young children

My husband and I were astounded a few years back when a friend related how her parents instituted a family culture of weekly fasting when she was growing up. I think the words that came out of our mouths were: "Parents can do that??" Their plan was something like, the parents fasted from food until dinnertime, the older kids were encouraged to do the same but I think allowed a little flexibility, the younger children were given simple meals but no snacks, and the toddlers/preschoolers were given simple meals and snacks. Because the whole family was fasting together on some level it was easier for each individual: for example, there was no temptation of a sibling teasing another with the candy being eaten, since there certainly wasn't ANY candy being eaten that day by ANYONE. We haven't gone anywhere close to this family culture in our own family, yet our children at least have a basic understanding of fasting by seeing their parents intentionally skip a meal or two, although their understanding of how that affects us is still quite simplistic.
Lent, or 40 days, is traditionally a time to fast. Knowing that our Christian brothers and sisters are fasting also can encourage us and strengthen our spirits to continue the sacrifice. I'm not about to ask my 4yr old and almost 6yr old to skip meals. Being pregnant this year, I'm not able to do that myself! But we can begin to teach them how to say "no" to worldly indulgences, how to offer a simple sacrifice as a gift to God, how to abstain from something good for the sake of something even better. We can be semi-transparent in our own fasting so they can see our witness and we can give them the tools they need at their own level to fast and pray and set apart this time of year to prepare for the most important celebration of our Christian faith.
I've built a list of ideas for my children to use this Lent and for me to work with them in practicing fasting and sacrificing at their level. I generally expect them to complete at least one of these items every day and we might begin working on continuing the same sacrifice over the course of a whole week. Of course, many items on this list are activities that will appeal to my children and won't be very "sacrificial" for them. But as they do these activities they will grow in their understanding of loving others and the connection between a "sacrifice" and an act of love, both for God and for another person.
  • make a "just because" card for a friend or family member
  • set aside a favorite toy to not play with for a day/week/month
  • vacuum the bedroom
  • make a present for a friend or family member
  • say an extra prayer at a time when you would normally play or listen to a story
  • give your sister her favorite dishes when it's your turn to use them
  • watch a portion of The Gospel of John, or another similar movie
  • make a stained glass cross to decorate our front window
  • paint a rock to decorate our garden
  • dust
  • visit a retired couple for a simple lunch
  • tell someone 5 things you appreciate about him/her
  • help polish the silverware
  • visit our local children's butterfly garden and talk about new life and metamorphosis and Christ's resurrection
  • let your sister choose both books for Mama to read at storytime, instead of each of you choosing one
  • don't play on the computer for a day
  • help Mama make the salad for dinner
We will be working with our children each morning, as several of these activities aren't things they can do on their own. Some days my husband or I will be telling them what their sacrifice will be for that day, as it works with our schedules. Other days we will help them chose an item for themselves from among the activities they can complete without our help.
Linked with Modest MondayWorks for Me Wednesday, Fellowship Friday

1 comment:

  1. These are nice ideas. I'm going to try to remember them and keep "sacrifice" at the forefront of our Lent.