Ash Wednesday sets the tone for the season of LENT. Because this is a somber and reflective tone, adults are often tempted to believe that this is not a day for children; however, on this holy day there is much for children & youth to learn from seeing their parents and the leaders of the congregation wearing ashes crossed on their foreheads and even more from wearing ashes themselves. The experience deeply binds them to their faith community and creates a meaningful entry into the season of Lent for all ages.
As Christian educator, Carolyn Brown, wrote several years ago in her blog, Worshiping with Children, “the imposition of ashes is amazing to children.” Their curiosity is peaked at the sight of adults wearing ashes in the shape of a cross.
“At first” says Brown, “they wear their own ashes as a sign that ‘I am one of them’ or ‘I belong.’ As they hear the language about sin, forgiveness, and repentance, they begin to wear them as an admission that ‘yes, I too am a sinner.’
This is not an easy step for children who are repeatedly told that they are ‘wonderful’ and ‘capable’. It also flies in the face of frequent adult insistence that they can make good choices—which is often taken to mean ‘if you try hard enough, you won’t be a sinner.’”
Ash Wednesday makes it easier to make the admission that “yes, I too am a sinner” by setting it in the presence of everyone else making the same admission.
Your church may offer an Ash Wednesday service and if they do, don’t be afraid to bring even young children. I have found this service to be very meaningful for my children, my grandchildren, and over the years, the children in our church family.
In many churches, children are all first marked with the cross using water (and sometimes oil) when they are brought forward for baptism. At that time to be marked with the cross is a wonderful thing. We are identifying our children as loved members of the family of God.
On Ash Wednesday, all ages are marked with the cross using ashes rather than water or anointing oil, and these ashes come with the words, “remember you are dust.”
The ashes and words remind us that we are not so perfect as we sometimes think we are. In fact, we are all sinners. “Fortunately, the sign is not an X, marking us as hopeless rejects, but a cross reminding us that God loves and forgives us, sinners though we be.” (Brown, 2013)
As Brown describes it, “Lent is spring training for disciples.” We begin the season publicly admitting to ourselves and others that we are not perfect disciples and are fortunate that God loves and forgives us anyway. We then commit to doing better.
It always feels to me like Lent is a spiritual “do-over.”
When children are offered specific doable disciplines that will help them be better prayers, better Bible readers, better at serving others, they respond enthusiastically. “Here they are reminded of God’s love for those who try and do well and also for those who try and do not do as well as they wish.” (Brown, 2013)
Even if you don’t attend Ash Wednesday service with your church family, at some point on Ash Wednesday—a time that works best for your family—gather everyone at home and begin OUR LENTEN JOURNEY together.
Written by Trevecca Okholm, drawing primarily from Worshiping With Children
Our Lenten Journey
Download this lovely 40-day Lent worship guide for families and intergenerational groups, from our friend Trevecca Okholm, author of The Grandparenting Effect.