The one truth I want all kids (and people) to know about Lent

Kara Powell Image Kara Powell | Mar 5, 2014

Photo by Kristin-Sanderson.

“I’m going to give up vegetables for Lent,” proclaimed my seven year-old daughter last night 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 tonight, as our family gathers in our living room to talk about Ash Wednesday (we would normally attend our church’s Ash Wednesday but its 7:30 pm start time is a bit late for our 7 year-old on a school night), I plan on getting a whiteboard and writing 5 words—what we at FYI call “The 5 G Gospel”. Our 13 and 11 year-old kids have heard us talk about this before, but this will be the first time explaining this to our seven year-old.

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.

Question: Whether you’re a parent or a leader, what do you want kids to know about Lent?

Kara Powell Image
Kara Powell

Kara Powell, PhD, is the chief of leadership formation and executive director of the Fuller Youth Institute (FYI) at Fuller Theological Seminary. Named by Christianity Today as one of "50 Women to Watch," Kara serves as a youth and family strategist for Orange and speaks regularly at parenting and leadership conferences. Kara has authored or coauthored numerous books, including Faith Beyond Youth Group, 3 Big Questions That Shape Your Future, 3 Big Questions That Change Every Teenager, Growing With, Growing Young, The Sticky Faith Guide for Your Family and the entire Sticky Faith series. Kara and her husband, Dave, are regularly inspired by the learning and laughter that comes from their three teenage and young adult children.

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