5 tips to help children benefit from Lent
The Coptic Orthodox Church starts Lent today. For 55 days, Copts will follow a vegan diet. However, Lent is so much more than abstaining from cheese and chocolate (notice how chicken and meat are not even on my mind?). Lent is a Spiritual journey towards Easter when we celebrate our Lord’s Resurrection and our salvation.
While all observant adults are called to fast, the topic of children fasting leads to different opinions and invariably leads to heated discussion. I firmly believe that only you can determine when your child is ready/capable of fasting, which is why this article will explore other ways to help your child fully benefit from Lent.
Family Prayer time: For the Duration of Lent, assign a time during the day for praying together as a family. This could be as simple as praying together before bedtime but in a family setting. The family could meet in the living room to recite the introduction of every hour (from the book of prayers, the Agpeya) one psalm, the gospel of the hour and the concluding prayer. Alternatively, you can decide to read 3 psalms together and ask the child to pray from the heart. This is also a fantastic opportunity to ask your child to compile a list of names of friends and family members that you can pray for every night, you can decide to alter the list on a daily or weekly basis.
Family Bible Reading Time: Don’t feel intimidated by this suggestion, you do not need a degree in theology to read a chapter of the Bible with your child. True, some children ask extremely complex questions that might cause you to sweat profusely, but your child is not looking for a dissertation on the Trinity. Should you be confronted by a question, you can’t answer, just write it down and ask your priest about it the following Sunday. This humble and simple solution should erase any trepidation you feel about reading the Bible together, and you will be teaching your child a valuable lesson: even adults don’t know everything about the Bible, and we keep learning as we grow older. Start small, maybe half a chapter a day or one chapter per week on a designated night but set a Bible reading routine and stick to it.
Outreach activity: Do your children have some toys (in good condition) that they can donate? Know someone who has not been to church for a while? Have an elderly relative who is at a senior’s citizen residence who might be feeling lonely? Schedule to visit that person with your child during Lent. Before going, read Matthew 25:35-40 and discuss the importance of following our Lord’s commandment.
35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’
37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink?38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’
Attending additional liturgies: Our church has weekday afternoon liturgies throughout Lent. I believe a lot of churches have additional liturgies during lent and attending one extra liturgy per week would really amplify the benefit of Lent for your child. This may not be possible every single week, but if we aim for at least one additional weekday liturgy during Lent, we would be more advanced than we were last year (at least, I would be!).
Offering up a “sacrifice”: If you would like to introduce the concept of fasting, start by asking your child to give up one thing. Your child may not know what to choose, but you can help them by suggesting one of their favorite food items or eliminating a food group.
May you have 55 days of spiritual growth as a family and may this Lenten season be full of blessings.
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