This is an introductory post to our Lent with Kids series, explaining how and why we’re using candles and a bunch of other things to make Lent meaningful at home.
I wrote this several years ago now, and it has become a cornerstone of our family spirituality.
Skip to the bottom to see the basic six-week plan, with links to more detail. You can also head here, to the series index to see what else is on offer. Welcome!
Advent was awesome! What’s next?
My toddler adored Advent. Candles! A calendar with little doors to open! Stories! What’s not to love?
Each night at dinner we lit coloured candles, and he could proudly tell any visitors what each one was for:
‘What does the green candle remind us of?’
‘Jesus [is] our HOPE!’
‘And what does hope mean?’
‘Things [will] get better!’
Of course he only has a glimmer of understanding about what this all means, but can you imagine how that will grow if we do the same thing every year of his childhood? This is the kind of spiritual foundation I really want to build for him.
Little kids of whatever age and stage are sponges, learning two or twenty new things every day. Advent gave our family a ready-made structure to become familiar with all sorts of aspects of the Christmas story and the theology of who Jesus is and what he means to us.
The repetition each day – candles at night, calendar in the morning – the physical actions and the visual aids consolidated what we were learning. Now, in February, SBJ can still tell you what each colour candle stands for, and what presents the wise men brought to Baby Jesus.
We were all pretty sad when it was over. So I got thinking about what else we can do to carry on this intentional formation of our family spirituality.
What do kids need in Lent?
The next big event in the church calendar is Lent, the six weeks before Easter. What a good length of time for a household-wide focus on Jesus!
Traditionally Christians plump for solemnity and sacrifice in Lent, giving up meat, alcohol, or in contemporary Protestant spirituality, things like coffee, television or junk food.
I thought hard about that. My son is two years old, and his menu and daily schedule are largely set by his parents. There’s nothing in there that I want to get rid of. I can’t see that any kind of fasting or self-denial would be helpful to his sense of spirituality and connection with God.
There are also risks in setting aside a six-week period to do anything if it doesn’t lead to more good stuff in the other 46 weeks of the year. I really enjoyed doing 40 Acts of Generosity last year with Stewardship UK, because it was about kickstarting actions and practices that would continue after Lent.
Fasting during Lent is traditionally about focusing, in a particularly strong way, on Jesus. If fasting itself isn’t what I want to do with my toddler, how else can we start a practice of focusing strongly on Jesus during Lent?
A physical ritual at dinnertime was brilliant through Advent. Repetition was helpful too. We lit the same candle every night for a week, and said what it reminded us of, then added another in each Sunday.
Connecting the ritual of lighting a candle to a simple phrase that made theology real for a little one worked much better than I had expected. We were making it up as we went along, just trying to explain the concepts as they came up, but it came together pretty well and turned into a mini-catechism.
We had more trouble with our plan of nightly Old Testament Bible stories (a bit like doing a Jesse Tree), mostly because I kept wanting to censor or skip them. God floods the world? David kills Goliath? I’ll write more another day about how the Bible is R18!
Lent with kids: a Sacraparental plan
With the help of Sister Joan Chittister’s wonderful book on the church calendar and building on what worked for us during Advent, I’ve come up with a plan for Lent with kids, and I hope some of you might join me.
It’s designed to stand alone or go alongside any other things you want to do, like fast, go screen-free, or practise hospitality or generosity in a different way.
A set of seven candles will anchor the whole period. It’s seven, in order to have a new candle for each of the six Sundays of Lent and one last one for Easter Sunday.
Do what you like with colour-coding them. I have a few ideas I’m still tossing up and perhaps we can talk more about that in the comments below. I wondered about using the seven colours of the rainbow, just because it’s the right number, but I think I’d like a white candle for Easter Sunday like the Christmas Day Christ candle on the Advent wreath. Traditionally, the candles in churches are violet during Lent, so perhaps that’s what I’ll settle on: six purple and one white.
Each week there will be a matching Bible story, candle, short sentence to repeat, and one-sentence prayer. You can pick and choose what works for you and adapt things however you like. The full list is at the bottom of this post for easy reference.
I’ll provide more resources and explanation below and as we go along, but here’s the basic outline:
- Arrange seven candles for your dining table (or wherever). Stick them to a plate, put them in a candelabra, make a wreath, whatever you like.
- Each Sunday, read a Bible story together based on the Lectionary cycle (I’ll provide it each week, ahead of time).
- I’m writing a short sentence to sum up a message from each reading that kids can repeat when lighting candles. Feel free to adapt it for your family, of course.
- Each Sunday, light a new candle, just like in Advent. Start with just one, then add the next one each Sunday, then the next, and so on.
- Each night (or day) that week, light the candles you’ve done so far and repeat the short sentences that matches the stories and the candles you’ve done so far. Whenever you pray with your household (bedtime, mealtime, whatever), use the one-sentence prayer that matches that week’s candle and reading. I think we might light the candles at the start of dinner and pray together at the end, and see how that goes.
I reckon this will work for kids of all ages and stages, but I’m keen for your feedback on that. There’s still plenty of time to change the plan to incorporate your ideas and wisdom!
For pre-verbal littlies, if all you do is light candles together, with an adult saying the sentence, that will be a lovely practice to mark Lent as a special time and build on for next year.
Children of all ages can engage with Bible stories in an age-appropriate version. I’ll provide some options, week by week, particularly for Easter. You might decide your kids are too young to have Jesus’ betrayal and death in the story this year, for instance, especially if there’s a two-day wait for the happy ending. I think that’s absolutely fine.
For older kids, you might want to add another element in that puts what we’re thinking about into action.
Is there a something practical you could do together to connect with the weekly themes? One week is about Jesus giving us a job to do, for instance. That week, could you all pray together to hear from God what job has your name on it? Maybe you could brainstorm ways you can make the world better this week, and tell stories each dinner time of the kind things you did during the day. I’ll provide some resources each week for this stuff, too.
If your kids are keen on art or music or sport, is there a way to connect those things in? Maybe they could draw pictures of the Bible stories, or learn new songs on the theme or practise hospitality by inviting someone new or left out to kick a ball around. I think if we put our heads together we’ll come up with all sorts of great things to do.
Each week, ahead of the Sunday, I’ll publish a post with the reading and sentence of the week and a bunch of other ideas. All you need to do is:
- Find seven candles and arrange them however you like.
- Have a household chat about Lent and what you’re going to do together.
- Talk to other people you know who might be interested and share these posts to get them fired up.
- Join in the conversation here about how to adapt the pattern for your household, and add your ideas into the mix.
Let us know what works for you guys! Give us your ideas and what you’re learning.
So what do you think? Does this sound helpful? Do you think your kids will be into it? What have you done during Lent before now? What else could we do or how could we adapt things to make the most of the opportunity? I’m very keen on your collaboration with this!
You might also want to show this to the leadership at your church, if you are part of one. This could be a great activity to do together, across the church, if you don’t already have beyond-Sunday plans for Lent.
Sacraparental Lent with Kids: The Candle Ritual, Week by Week
Week 1, Candle 1 (Wednesday-Saturday): Jesus is Wise
Start with a pancake party on Shrove Tuesday.
Adults or older kids might also like to attend an ashing service on Ash Wednesday.
From Wednesday to Saturday, once a day, whenever it suits your household, light the first of your seven candles.
Read: Jesus facing temptation in the desert, Luke 4, or another suitable text.
Say: ‘The first Lent candle reminds us that Jesus is wise.’
Practise: Making wise choices through the week.
Discuss: How did we try to be wise today?
Pray (shorter): Thank you Jesus, for showing us how to be wise. Please help us make wise choices.
Pray (longer): Thank you, God, for sending Jesus to show us what you are like. Thank you that we can get to know you and learn how to live wisely because of Jesus. Please help us to make wise choices through the power of your Holy Spirit.
For art, craft, movies, games and more, go to the full post for Week 1 of Lent.
Week 2, Candle 2: Jesus and the prophets make us brave
This week, once a day, starting on the first Sunday of Lent, light two candles. As you light the first, say the first week’s sentence: ‘The first Lent candle reminds us that Jesus is wise.’ Then light the second candle and say this week’s sentence.
Read: Jesus’ transfiguration (Matthew 17, Mark 9, Luke 9), or another suitable text.
Say: ‘The second Lent candle reminds us that Jesus and the prophets make us brave.’
Practise: Being brave through the week.
Discuss: How did we try to be brave today? See the full post for Week 2 for more discussion ideas.
Pray (shorter): Please Jesus, help me make brave choices.
Pray (longer): Thank you, Jesus, for bravely coming to show us what God is like. Please remind us this week that we can choose to be brave, through the strength of your Holy Spirit.
For art, craft, movies, games and more, go to the full post for Week 2 of Lent.
Week 3, Candle 3: Jesus gives us important jobs
This week, once a day, light three candles. As you light each one, say the sentence for that candle.
Read: Jesus and the woman at the well (John 4); or the Good Samaritan (Luke 10), or another suitable text.
Say: ‘The third Lent candle reminds us that Jesus gives us important jobs to do to make the world better.’
Practise: Making a difference.
Discuss: What did we do for today? See the full post for Week 3 for more discussion ideas.
Pray (shorter): Thank you, Jesus for giving me important jobs to make the world better.
Pray (longer): Thank you, Jesus, for letting us join your team to make the world better. Please show us what jobs you’d like us to do and help us to do them.
For art, craft, movies, games and more, go to the full post for Week 3 of Lent.
Week 4, Candle 4: Jesus gives us a fresh start
This week, once a day, light four candles. As you light each one, say the sentence for that candle.
Read: Jesus heals a man who has been blind his whole life (John 9); or Jesus talks with Nicodemus about the idea of being ‘born again’(John 3); or the Prodigal Son (Luke 15)
Say: ‘The fourth Lent candle reminds us that Jesus gives us a fresh start whenever we need one.’
Practise: Apologising and forgiving.
Discuss: What did we do for today? See the full post for Week 4 for more discussion ideas.
Pray (shorter): Thank you, Jesus, for giving us a fresh start whenever we need one.
Pray (longer): Please help us to understand that you forgive us. Please help us to follow your example and forgive other people too.
For art, craft, movies, games and more, go to the full post for Week 4 of Lent.
Week 5, Candle 5: Jesus is in charge of life
This week, once a day, light five candles. As you light each one, say the sentence for that candle.
Read: Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead (John 11:1-45, or until verse 53).
Say: ‘The fifth Lent candle reminds us that Jesus is in charge of life.’
Practise: Confession of faith, or lectio divina (details on both here)
Discuss: Who do we think Jesus is? See the full post for Week 5 for more discussion ideas.
Pray (shorter): Thank you, Jesus, for being in charge of life (and death).
Pray (longer): Thank you, God, for sending Jesus to show us how to live, and letting him be in charge of life and death. Help me to trust Jesus with my life.
For art, craft, movies, games and more, go to the full post for Week 5 of Lent.
Week 6, Candle 6: Jesus is a surprising King (Palm Sunday)
This week, from Sunday to Thursday, light six candles. As you light each one, say the sentence for that candle.
To sum up:
1. the first candle, to remind us that ‘Jesus is wise,’ then
2. the second candle, to remind us that ‘Jesus and the prophets make us brave,’ then
3. the third candle, to remind us that ‘Jesus gives us important jobs to do to make the world better,’ then
4. the fourth candle, to remind us that ‘Jesus gives us a fresh start whenever we need one’ then
5. the fifth candle, to remind us that ‘Jesus is in charge of life (and death)’ then
6. the sixth candle, to remind us that ‘Jesus is a surprising King’
Light all six candles each day this week, but on Good Friday, you could light them and immediately snuff them all out.
Don’t light them on Saturday.
On Easter Sunday, light all six and then the seventh, final, Christ Candle.
Read: Jesus arrives in Jerusalem (Matthew 21)
Say: ‘The sixth Lent candle reminds us that Jesus is a surprising King.’
Practise: Telling each other why we follow Jesus (see more on that here)
Discuss: Who do we think Jesus is? See the full post for Week 6 for more discussion ideas.
Pray (shorter): Thank you Jesus, for surprising us.’
Pray (longer): Please show us what kind of King you are, and help us to get to know you better.
For art, craft, movies, games and more, go to the full post for Week 6 of Lent.
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