“I’m going to give up vegetables for Lent,” proclaimed my then-seven year-old daughter a few years ago over dinner. This wasn’t the first time I heard this from Jessica; her two older siblings have tried that in previous years.
“Nice try,” I replied.
I didn’t grow up observing Lent, but once I got married, Dave helped me understand its significance. But the biggest mistake I see families and churches making when they talk about Lent and sacrifice is that the sacrifice slips into somehow feeling like we have to earn God’s approval.
We don’t. What separates Christianity from every other religion is grace. One of the core findings of our Sticky Faith research is that young people have strayed from the true gospel and adopted a version similar to what Dallas Willard called the “gospel of sin management.” A gospel that’s all about behaviors and giant “Do” and “Don’t” lists.
So like we did that night those many years ago, as our family gathers in our living room to talk about Ash Wednesday, I plan on reviewing 5 words—what we at the Fuller Youth Institute call “The 5 G Gospel”. When my kids were 13, 11, and 7, I used a whiteboard. Now that my kids are older, this will most likely be a conversation over dinner.
GOOD – We are created in God’s image, and God was pleased with humankind.
GUILT – Our sin, or our guilt, has separated us from God.
GRACE – God couldn’t stand that separation, so God sent Jesus that we might have real life in the present and eternal life with God.
GOD’S PEOPLE – We live in community, experiencing and advancing the Kingdom with our brothers and sisters in Christ.
GRATITUDE – We serve and obey (and practice Lent) not to make God like us more, or love us more, but because we’re so grateful for all God has done for us.
In short, we honor Lent not to earn God’s approval or to feel better about ourselves, but so our lives are great big Thank You Notes back to God.
Whether you’re a parent or a leader, what do you want kids to know about Lent?