Today is Ash Wednesday, and here at Aslan’s Library, we’ve been stocking our bookshelves with books that will accompany our families as we walk together through the season of Lent. During the next six weeks, we’ll be reviewing books and music that encourage worship, repentance, devotion, and meditation on God’s great work for us in Jesus. As always, if you have resources your family has loved, please do pass them along!
For those of you not familiar with Lent, it is the season when the church prepares for the death and resurrection of Jesus. For 40 days, we symbolically walk with Jesus through his time in the desert: fasting, praying, examining ourselves, repenting, and meditating on how God’s perfect righteousness in Jesus makes us holy as well. Contrary to popular perception, this isn’t merely a season of self-denial. Self-denial, or fasting, is just the shock most of our systems need to break us out of the everyday and thrust us back onto greater dependence upon God. And what joy that is!
And the purpose of the fasting, the meditating, the repenting? To focus us afresh on the reality of our shared human condition: we are forgiven sinners, nothing more and nothing less. Lent is actually one of my favorite seasons of the year, because it brushes aside all of my inflated notions of myself and reminds me of the blessed simplicity of my state. I am a sinner, but I am forgiven, thanks to the cross and the unfathomable mercy of God. We’re all in the same predicament: kings, presidents, housewives, pastors, the wise, the foolish, moms and dads and kids.
Each year, at the Ash Wednesday service at our church (we do the imposition of ashes – marking our foreheads to acknowledge that we are dust), I’m always a little shocked to see young children with ashes on their foreheads. Last year, when my daughter went to the service for the first time, I nearly wept to hear and see that truth pronounced over her – that she, too, lives under the penalty of sin apart from God’s grace. I can shield her from much, but not from the wages of sin. And so my husband and I decided to practice Lent as a family, to fast and pray and repent together.
Like Advent (a lesser fast, at the beginning of the church year), there are many ways to go about walking through Lent with children. Our church has been a wonderful help: the kids are encouraged to “Give it up, pray, and give it away.” We want them to see that Lent isn’t about shrinking (giving things up or self-debasement); it’s about making room for God so that he can increase in us. In our family, that means giving up sweets together – because, with a 4 year old, that’s a big deal. As she grows, I’m sure we’ll give up other things, like television or meat some other small daily luxury.
But since the point is to make room for more of Christ’s life in us, we want to practice fasting in the way God desires. I was deeply struck while reading Isaiah 58 last week:
Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the straps of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover him; and not to hide yourself from your own flesh? (Isaiah 58:6-7)
So this year, as a family, in addition to giving up sweets, we are going to make a concerted effort to eat more simply and spend less money on groceries. We won’t be eating out. My husband and I won’t be spending money on ourselves, and the kids won’t be getting any new toys, books, or little treats until Easter. And over dinner, we’re going to read about different opportunities to give the money we save away to the poor. We’ll pray and discuss as a family, and invite our 4-year-old into the joyful process of giving up so we can give away. I’ll let you know how it goes!
Lastly, I plan to cycle some new books into our daily reading times. We’ll be looking at books about Jonah, and the Exodus, and some lives of the saints. We’ll get back into the habit of reading The Divine Hours. And we’re going to work on Scripture memory, which is more fun than you’d think with a 4-year old. When my kids are a little older, I plan to read a missionary or martyr biography with them every Lent.
So let me encourage you to embrace Lent as a family! (For further reading, check out Kristen Stewart’s post on Lent, over at This Classical Life.) Let us know what you choose to do, and we hope that some of our reviews and suggestions will be a blessing to your family as well.