Lent can be a really mystifying concept for young children. And, let’s face it, for plenty of grown-ups too.
Why are we “giving something up”? What does fasting have to do with Jesus? Does Jesus not want us to have chocolate, or screen time, or whatever it is we’re giving up for Lent?!
These questions might be coming up a lot as Lent goes on. So when my young kids have asked me questions like these, here is how I’ve explained the purpose of Lent.
1We are trying to be like Jesus
I tell my kids about the time that Jesus spent in the desert preparing for his public ministry. “Jesus spent 40 days praying and fasting, and Lent is a special time when we do that too,” I explain. “This time is for growing closer to Jesus and trying to do what he did and act like him.”
2We are preparing for the greatest celebration of the whole year
My kids know that “purple’s for preparation” thanks to the liturgical colors work they do in their Catechesis of the Good Shepherd atrium. But what exactly are we doing to prepare?
When we give things up for Lent, that fast gives even more excitement and meaning to our upcoming celebration.
I tell them, “Easter is the biggest celebration of the whole year. But a celebration wouldn’t feel special if we were celebrating every day. It wouldn’t feel special to have cake and ice cream on your birthday if we were eating those things every single day. In the same way, we are saving our favorite things to do during the great celebration we’re preparing for.”
3We are reminding ourselves that we don’t need other things as much as we need Jesus
Another important reason we fast is so that we remember we don’t actually need that little indulgence.
Some days, I might think, “This piece of chocolate is giving me the strength to get through the witching hour and bedtime,” which are generally the hardest time of day. But I know deep down that I don’t actually need the chocolate; Jesus can give me the strength that I need, if I actually took the time to ask him for it instead of running around like a chicken with its head cut off.
Lent is a really important reminder that I don’t actually need that favorite food or pastime. Everything I could ever need can be found in my friendship with God.
So I explain to my kids, “I’m not giving up chocolate (or Instagram, or coffee, or TV, or whatever) because Jesus doesn’t want me to have it. I’m giving it up to remind myself that I don’t actually need it: Jesus gives me everything I need.”
Or as I read to the children in the atrium, “The Lord is my shepherd; I have everything I need” (Psalm 23). This Scripture verse is such an important one for understanding why we fast during Lent.
That is how I explain fasting during Lent in a way my young children can understand, and hopefully this explanation is useful for you too.