Lent is the Christian season, beginning on Ash Wednesday and ending with Holy Week, that encourages believers to pray, fast, and serve as a way to prepare their hearts for the celebration of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. The ultimate goal of Lent is to draw closer to God. Much like Advent prepares our hearts for Christmas, Lent prepares our hearts for Easter.
Not all Christian traditions place the same emphasis on Lent. I never observed Lent growing up, and 99 percent of what I know about Lent I’ve learned as an adult. I have friends who take the season very seriously with daily devotions and family-wide fasting, and I have other friends who don’t really pay much attention until Holy Week. At our current church, we host an Ash Wednesday service, our pastor leads us through a Lenten series each Sunday leading up to Holy Week, and we have a few Holy Week services as well, like on Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and of course, Easter Sunday.
The depth and emphasis on Lent can vary widely in the Christian tradition and even in my own faith experiences. But here’s where I’ve landed: Do we as believers HAVE to observe Lent? No. Can it be beneficial to our spiritual growth? Absolutely.
Here are eight ways you can celebrate Lent, no matter your tradition or background.
1. Celebrate the Special Days
Kick off the Lent season with a Shrove Tuesday Pancake Party. Host an intergenerational Ash Wednesday service. Make plans to celebrate Holy Week (it doesn’t have to be complicated). Making note of these special days in Lent can help us prepare for Easter and learn about the life of Jesus during his last days on earth.
2. Fast or Give Up Something
Fasting is probably the most common practice associated with Lent. It is meant to mirror the practice of Jesus, who fasted 40 days in the desert in preparation for his public ministry. This often brings up the question: should kids fast? We discuss this answer in more detail here, and you can find ways to help you understand the spiritual discipline of fasting here.
3. Family Devotional or Prayer Time
If the point of Lent is to draw us closer to God, it’s not a bad idea to set aside special time with him above our normal routine. You could use a devotional or commit to spending regular time in prayer as a family.
4. Memorize Scripture
When Jesus spent 40 days in the desert, he was tempted by the devil. And his response to all of the devil’s schemes? Scripture. Memorizing Scripture is a great way to draw closer to God. As a family, you can memorize a new verse each week or even one or two verses throughout the month.
5. Show Hospitality
One of the best ways to connect to the heart of God is to live out his heart by loving others. Prayerfully consider the needs of those around you, look for the lonely or the lost and invite them in! You could make the commitment each week to invite someone over for a meal. Or to take time to write a letter or send a card to someone hurting or just to let them know you’re thinking of them.
Sometimes we have to give away or let go of things to make room for new things. Each week, consider finding something in your home to give away, like a toy the kids don’t play with anymore or gently used clothes. Or maybe it’s time to cut back on spending/shopping and instead use that money toward the church or for a charitable organization. Use these donations as a way to serve the community. You could even encourage kids to do a little “spring cleaning” (and all the parents said “Amen”) and think of it as a prayerful preparation for Easter in the same way that Jewish families clean in preparation for Passover.
7. Make Pretzels
Did you know pretzels have a long historical connection to the Lent season? With simple ingredients, pretzels were an ideal snack to eat during Lent in the 7th century, and their shape is supposed to mimic someone’s arms crossed in prayer (early pray-ers crossed their arms across their chest and placed a hand on the opposite shoulder to pray). So go ahead and bake your own pretzels and say a prayer while you eat them!
8. Use Resurrection Eggs
For those of you who are just dipping your toes into this whole Lent thing, Resurrection eggs are a great place to start. Resurrection Eggs offer 12 days of studying the Easter story and learning about the last week of Jesus’ life. They’re a great introduction to extending an Easter celebration beyond just Easter morning. You could make your own or purchase a kit here.
When we celebrate Lent, it’s important to remember that Lent isn’t just about giving something up. Lent is about making room in our hearts and lives for God to fill us up with his presence and his word.