Ash Wednesday began the penitential season of Lent for Catholic and Orthodox Christians. During this 40-day period, we follow Christ’s temptation in the desert, ending with Holy Week and passion, death and resurrection at Easter. During Lent we fast in imitation of Christ. Here are tips to teach kids why and how we fast.
* Turn from sin to God. We abstain from vices–swearing, selfishness, tantrums, laziness. We confess those sins. But part of forgiveness is change. Things we give up may not be bad–TV, candy, sports, music, computer. But preoccupation with them draws us from God.
* Love in action. How does fasting bring us closer to God? We’re physical creatures. Fasting is visceral. We feel it. And that’s living faith. We show love by almsgiving in Lent. Sharing money saved on luxuries is further love in action.
* Child-like. Jesus came as a child and we’re called to approach God as children. We adults sin and lead teach children to. But they in turn teach us faith. I read of a little boy giving up his bedtime drink of water for his sick baby brother. Remind children that they have an important God-given job, to show adults to love as they do.
* Replace. Lent isn’t just giving up bad habits, but developing healthy ones that hopefully last all year. We encouraged our kids to trade what they gave up for something good. Eating vegetables instead of sweets. Eating out less and saving the money for Catholic Relief Services Rice Bowl, shopping less and donating clothing, praying instead of playing video games. Giving up being a picky eater and trying new foods, suggest Catholic Education.
* Spiritual and corporal. We chose a physical (corporal) fast (food, entertainment) and a spiritual habit builder–gratitude instead of resentment, talking out problems instead of yelling, playing with little sister instead of fighting.
* Personal. We told each child to ask God to reveal what he should give up. Fasting is private. It’s no one’s business what you give up or how successful you are. Teach by modeling, not lecturing. Children learn responsibility being trusted to manage their spiritual lives.
* Watch ulterior motives. My husband always jokes he’s giving up work. He’s kidding but it makes a good point. We shouldn’t bring an agenda to our fast. This year I’m dieting. So I’m giving up something besides food.
* No excuse to sin. Bragging, getting crabby and blaming fasting, taking it out on others are sins and defeat the purpose of fasting.
* Child-specific rules. The Church says children under 18 should not abstain from eating. They might give up candy, ice cream, pop or junk food. But they need nourishment. Kids 14 and over are required to give up meat on fast days, says Catholicism.About.com.
* Off the wagon options. My eldest daughter sets a jar on the counter during Lent. When someone slips up on a fast, they put in a dollar. The money is donated to church missions.
Fasting is healthy for adults and children. It teaches us to live simpler.