For children, Lent can be “Spring Training for Disciples,” a time to practice our disciple skills as we get ready for Easter. But, the six weeks of Lent is also very long - FOREVER! for children. It is easier for them to commit to practicing a skill for one week rather than for six weeks. So what about challenging them and their households to practice a different worship skill each week of Lent.
Practice skills such as:
Praising God – practice saying “wow, God” every time you encounter God doing something amazing. (This could even be saved for Easter week.)
Thanking God – practice saying “Thank you God” every time you eat something yummy or see or do something wonderful. Make a list of all those thank yous (on your own or with your family) at the end of the day and thank God again.
Accepting God’s forgiveness and forgiving myself – at the end of each day recall all the ways you messed up today, then remind yourself, “God forgives me, so I can forgive myself.” (If young families will be present on Ash Wednesday, this might be a good choice for the remainder of the week. Not only does it follow the ashes and prayers for forgiveness and repentance, but it sets the tone for forgiving ourselves when we fail to keep up with the practices that follow.)
Forgiving others – at the end of each day recall people who have hurt you or made you angry or frustrated you today, then remind yourself, “God forgives them, so can I” or pray the phrase from the Lord’s Prayer “forgive us our debts/sins/transgressions as we forgive those who ….”
Passing the Peace – practice passing the peace to people you meet this week. Silently (or aloud if they are practicing too) say “Peace of God be with you” and mean it. As a family pass the peace to each member of the family once each day at a meal or prayer time. (Some days this is a challenging discipline!)
Offering yourself and your gifts – give families a list of simple serving projects from which they might choose one to undertake this week, e.g. taking a bag of groceries to the food bank, gathering old clothes to take to a shelter, writing letters or drawing cards to send to people who need them, etc.
Praying for the world – When you see a person or situation needing God’s help, offer an on-the-run prayer. When possible, at the end of the day as a family collect those prayers into one prayer for others for that day.
Listening to God’s story – Read from the Bible or a Bible story book each day this week. (This is an especially good discipline for Holy Week. The congregation can help by sending home a bookmark listing a Holy Week story to read each day of the week.)
Reminding yourself what you believe - (If your congregation says a creed each week) read or say the Apostles’ Creed (or some other creed) once each day. This is a chance for households to talk about what some phrases mean and to practice for Sunday worship.
This is obviously more than can be done in the six weeks of one Lent. Pick the ones that fit your worship service. Add others as needed.
Present each week’s discipline to the whole congregation during worship that week (and in email blasts?). Practice them in the order they come in your worship service. Or, ask worship planners to arrange them to go with the worship themes of each week. Present them during children’s times which could be moved around to be just before or after the part of worship that will be practiced at home that week. Or present them to the whole congregation at the appropriate point in the order of worship. Each presentation needs to include clear concise directions for the practice and an explanation of how it connects to what you do in worship every week.
This collection of Lenten disciplines could be targeted to the children, but I suspect that it can also be meaningfully adopted by worshipers of all ages living in all sorts of households. An adult or teenager might pursue them on their own. And, parents might practice them with their children and find in them lots of opportunities for important, faith-filled conversations.