Episode 88: Making Easter Meaningful for Our Families

In this episode we look at tools for observing Lent and preparing for a meaningful Easter with our families. Check out the ideas and free downloads.

Books Discussed in This Episode:

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This week I want to take just a few minutes to prepare us for Lent. And if you don’t come from a tradition that celebrates or observes Lent, I’ll tell you a little bit about it in just a minute. I don’t come from that background either. I came from a church that celebrated Easter very big, but we did not observe Lent. Since I read Carol Brazo’s book, No Ordinary Home. I’ve just been interested in making the whole Easter season a special time for my family, wanting to anticipate Easter, kind of like I anticipate Christmas.

Now, granted for children, that’s very difficult to do as far as the same level, because they’re not getting gifts; there’s not a zillion different fun shows about Santa Claus on TV. And Easter is a much more solemn celebration because of the seriousness of what Christ did for us on the cross. And then the joy of his resurrection, even though it’s joyful, it’s still very serious. It’s life-changing. It’s very personal. And so Easter definitely has a different feel to it than Christmas, but I think our hearts can prepare and anticipate and we can help our children to anticipate the celebration of Easter.

This is not something that we as Christians are commanded to do like the Lord’s Supper or Communion. We are commanded to do that when we gather together in remembrance of what Christ has done for us. We are commanded to be baptized, but we are not commanded to observe Lent. And it has been a part of the church as a whole, from the very early church. They would observe 40 days before Easter as Lent. And it’s actually 46 days. Because I wasn’t raised in that tradition. I’ve always tried to do a full 46 days of stories or whatever we’re going to do like ornaments on the Easter tree. You know, whatever our plan is for that year.

But as I was reading more about it in a book called Bitter and Sweet by Tsh Oxenreider; this is A Journey into Easter. It’s a wonderful book. At the beginning, she gives you a brief history of Lent and the observance of it and why we do it and how we do it. And she said, usually most churches have Sunday as a true Sabbath day of rest, where we don’t worry about whatever our fast is or whatever we’re doing for Lent. We come and just celebrate. We have a month of celebration of the resurrection, and then we come and celebrate, ultimately, with Easter. We, during the week, choose to spend more time in prayer, more time in giving, and some time in fasting. She brings up that it’s not to be like we normally think of a fast where we are just abstaining from all food. This is where we choose something that is an indulgence, a fun thing, something that we allow ourselves to do on a, not necessarily, regular basis, but we’re going to give that up for this season. Maybe it’s a computer, maybe it’s TV programs, maybe it’s one kind of food like chocolate. I’ve had a lot of friends give up chocolate for Lent. The reason for it is not any other goal or reason other than devotion to God and trying to draw closer to Him and spend more time with Him. I think when our motivation is anything other than that, we should just not even mess with it because our hearts are not in the right place. It’s not something that we have to be perfectionistic about. We just need to pray about what it is that is getting in the way of our spiritual life or something that we can just give up as an honor to spend more time with God and to take that time of devotion to Him.

So that’s kind of the feeling behind it and the purpose behind it. And during Lent, we look for transformation. It’s a time of repentance. It’s a time of heart searching and turning back to God, to our first love. And I think it’s just a wonderful season to really prepare, like I said, prepare our hearts for Easter and the resurrection and the whole holy week–to just prepare our hearts and our family for that time and to create some anticipation for it, but also to repent and make sure our hearts are where they are supposed to be. And that we are returning to our first love and have that joy and fervency in our faith. So that’s what it’s kind of all about. So Lent is the 46 days leading up to the resurrection. This year it starts on March 2nd–that’s Ash Wednesday. And I wanted to give you enough time to prepare whatever you’re going to do with your family to celebrate this period of time. And so I wanted to be sure and post this this week so that you have some time to prepare.

And we can find so many ideas for how to do Lent and prepare for Easter. If your tradition observes Ash Wednesday in the traditional way, it is meant to remind us of our mortality. We came from dust and we will return to dust. And that’s what they say when they put the ashes on the person’s head or forehead, if that is not your tradition, you can follow some of the guidelines that I shared last year in Episode 34. If you do that, you’ll go through all the major stories of the Bible from Genesis up through Jesus’ resurrection. And it shows God’s plan as it unfolds through the entire Bible and leads to the coming of the Messiah, his death, burial, and His glorious resurrection. You can use that. And with that, I use an Easter tree or a basket to put ornaments in that represent each story of the Bible. You can either make those with your kids, or you can buy charms or different things that will work as ornaments to represent the different stories in the Bible. So for that, you would need 46 ornaments. Or if you keep the Sundays as a Sabbath, then you would only need 40 ornaments and 40 stories. And I do have those outlined in a free download. If you want to go there, I’ll have the link in the show notes. You can also go to episode 34 of “Books that Spark” and find that same download there.

If you want to, you can just do a weekly observance, have an emphasis on something different for the six weeks. And that can be very meaningful, because you can spend two or three days or even the entire week thinking about a single word, a single concept, a single story in the Bible that is something that God is wanting to teach you and your children. That’s another way to observe Lent, and you can just pick and choose from the stories I have listed and the ideas I have listed– choose the ones you want to do and just focus on one per week. So if you’re really busy and you’re feeling concerned or overwhelmed, or even if you just want to really slow down during this season and not feel so rushed just to have that peaceful week-long meditation on whatever story, whatever character or whatever characteristic of God or part of Jesus’ story that you want to focus on, then do that. Whatever works for your family.

The main point is we want to prepare our hearts for the celebration of the resurrection. We want to make sure that our hearts are right with God and that we have repented of any sin in our lives and have drawn near to Him– and like I said, return to our first love. So when that is our focus and we pray and ask God, what should we do this year–then that will help. And if you do decide to use ornaments, what I usually recommend is putting each one, either in a wrapped box or in a bag, like a cloth bag, and have each one numbered for the days when you pull out that ornament. And that way it becomes something very special and almost mysterious for your children. That’s a lot of fun, and it helps build anticipation. But what we’re trying to do, it’s like the Advent celebration at Christmas. We’re preparing our hearts, we’re counting down, and we’re building that anticipation for our children. We want to count down to Easter.

So this year I’m doing a walk through Jesus’ life as seen in the gospel of Matthew. And I really just wanted to let each of my kids and each of us in our family revisit Jesus’ life and His teachings, what He says about the Christian life and how we’re supposed to live and what it’s supposed to look like. And to remember the parables and the miracles and all that He did in His life. And just celebrate that for this whole time. I just think that that for us this year, that just seems like what we need to do. And so I will also post that. You can download my outline. It’s just what I’m doing with my family.

One of the things I saw that really is wonderful for little children is simply to make a chain, a paper chain, you know, like we used to do with the little strips of construction paper and make it as a countdown to Easter. And I got the idea from Traci Smith’s book, Faithful Families for Lent, Easter and Resurrection by Traci Smith. And it’s a companion to Faithful Families: Creating Sacred Moments at Home. One of her suggestions is to make this paper chain as a simple, visual, and wonderful way to anticipate Easter.

And I really love her book, but I will tell you, I do disagree with some of her ideas and some of her theology. You may run into that, of course, with anyone’s book, and that’s okay. I still love her book, and I love her ideas, and there’s a lot that she has to offer that’s really wonderful. And so we need to always search the word of God. If something we’re reading kind of catches our spirit as this doesn’t feel right, this doesn’t sound right, then get out your Bible and see why that bothers you. Where are you finding that disagreement? And then either you can work out that you are believing something incorrectly, or this person is saying something you disagree with. As long as we are critical thinkers and critical readers, and don’t buy into everything when we feel it contradicts the Bible. But like I said, her book is really wonderful with a lot of simple, inexpensive ideas that will help you to make some memories with your family, to make some meaningful worship times with your children. That’s her book, the Faithful Family series.

And of course I mentioned, Carol Brazo’s, No Ordinary Home. It is not in print anymore, but you can find used copies of this book. And it was such a life-changing book for me. I still refer back to it all the time. I just love this book. I wish they would do a reprinting of it. It’s her walk into more of a devotional life with God. I just love it. It just really spoke to me, especially with making spiritual memories for her family.

And the other book I mentioned is the Bitter and Sweet. This is a devotional book for the Lenten season for adults. What I’ve read so far is just wonderful. It’s really beautiful and has so much good information in it.

As we get closer to Easter, I will be sharing lots of wonderful Easter books. There’s so many good ones that have come out this year from some of the people we’ve already interviewed. And so I will be talking about those as we get closer to Easter, but I just wanted to use this episode to help you to recognize that Ash Wednesday is coming up. If you aren’t used to observing Lent, but would like to, and would like to build that anticipation with your children for Easter. Then I didn’t want to wait until the last minute to do it, like I did last year.

Please take the time if you can, and if you have something special that you do for your children for Lent or Easter, could you put that in a comment on this blog? It would just really be a blessing to see what other people do, ideas that you might have. The more we can share with each other, the more we can learn and benefit and help bless our children and our family. I would just love to hear what you like to do for Lent and for Easter. Do you do Easter baskets? Do you color Easter eggs? How many of those kinds of traditions do you observe? Do you do the resurrection eggs?

I love the resurrection eggs, but I kind of agree with Traci Smith on this one. She doesn’t necessarily agree with what they have in the eggs, because there’s a whip. There’s a sponge for when they gave that to Jesus on the cross. There’s some nails; there’s several things that are just reminding our children of the things that Jesus went through on the cross, and depending what age your children are, that may not be what we want to emphasize the most.

Not that we want to ignore it–not at all. We definitely need to let our children know Jesus died for our sins on the cross. He suffered for our sins on the cross, but we don’t need to traumatize our children, like having them see all the horror of it. I’ve heard of many pastors who go into great detail of the horrors of the crucifixion when our emphasis really needs to be on the resurrection, on the redemption of what God is doing through all of this. And as our children get older, yes, they can understand the price He paid and how terrible it was. For me though, the biggest drama and horror of his death was that, here He was a man who never experienced sin. He was sinless and He’s on the cross. And not only was He suffering physically, but He was suffering spiritually. He felt the weight of all our sin and I think if we can just help our kids understand that our sin hurts people. It hurts us. It hurts those that we’ve wronged, and it hurt Jesus. They don’t need to know much more than that. That’s enough to convict pretty deeply because we all know how guilt feels, how sin feels when we have messed up, how terrible we feel. For them to understand that Jesus felt that too, when He was on the cross, and yet the grave is empty. He has risen again; He conquered death. He bore our sin willingly, and He has risen again. And so to help them understand the resurrection well in Traci’s book, she has a page of what she suggests we put into the resurrection eggs. And I think that’s a wonderful idea just to emphasize more the joy of the season and the redemption of it all, rather than so many of the eggs focusing on the suffering, you know, one or two, maybe, but not so many.

She has another idea for Lent where we go and have a word for each day and meditate on that word and look at scriptures that have to do with that word. And so I think that’s a great idea.

Pray about what it is that God wants you to do this year. So you have a week to kind of pray about it if you haven’t already been praying about it and kind of decide what you want to do. If this is your first time to do it, and you’re not as prepared, I would advise going for the once a week and having six special devotional times with your family between now and Easter, where you guys can share together and have a good spiritual conversation with your kids and prepare for Easter. Then do the chain, the paper chain or something to count the days. But as far as the devotion, do it once a week and then think about it all week long. Maybe memorize a scripture from it, make that what you do this year and keep it simple. And it’s still meaningful. And that’s what’s beautiful about the Easter season. And it’s not all about hoopla and presents and decorating. It’s about being quiet at the feet of Jesus and thinking about what he did for us and what a wonderful blessing He has created in our lives by making us new creations in Him.

Thank you for joining us for “Books that Spark,” a podcast, celebrating books, that spark imagination, emotion, questions, and discussions as we disciple our children and help them follow Christ with their whole hearts, if you would like to join my mailing list and receive my monthly newsletter, you can find me at TerrieHellardBrown.com. And remember if you have something to share or you have a question to ask, please feel free to comment below the show notes on my website. I respond to every comment.

File for Lent Based on Matthew:

Here is the template we’re using for Lent this year. We are walking through the Gospel of Matthew together. Feel free to use this with your family. I’ve done some of the days for you, but much of it is blank and will be filled in as we go through Lent this year.

Your Host:

Terrie Hellard-Brown writes and speaks to help children and adults find God’s purpose and plan for their lives. She teaches workshops and writes devotional books, children’s stories, and Christian education materials.

Her podcast, Books that Spark, reviews children’s books that spark imagination, emotion, questions, and discussion leading to teachable moments with our kids. Her podcast posts each Tuesday morning.

Her blog posts discuss living as a disciple of Christ while parenting our children. She challenges us to step out of our comfort zones to walk by faith in obedience to Christ and to use the nooks and crannies of our lives to disciple our children.

Terrie uses her experiences as a mother of four (three on “the spectrum”), 37 years in ministry (15 in Taiwan), and 32 years teaching to speak to the hearts of readers.

Her motto is “Life doesn’t have to be perfect to be WONDERFUL” and keeps her childlike joy by writing children’s stories, delighting over pink dolphins, and frequently laughing till it hurts.

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