Lent can be a controversial tradition in the church. Many Protestants believe Lent is not applicable to them. Many others (Catholic and Protestant alike) who do observe the season miss its point entirely, giving up caffeine or sugar, and mistakenly believing they’re somehow suffering for the sake of Jesus.
But Lent does not exist so we can suffer. The Lenten season does not call us to “suffer for Jesus.” In fact, Jesus himself suffered during these days so we wouldn’t have to. Jesus died so we could live. Ergo, the point of Lent is to highlight the opposite of suffering—our very great need for and dependence on Jesus, the Christ, our Lord and Savior.
When teaching our teens the significance of the practice of Lent, let’s go beyond the surface. Help them dig into the meaning of Lent in a way that will mean something to them. Assist them in identifying unhealthy habits in their lives, and—instead of teaching them that Jesus would want them to go without that one thing for 40 days—teach them what Lent is really about: bringing balance to our self-centered lives, and finding ways to make everything we do more God-focused.
Therefore, giving something up for Lent isn’t about a 40-day, one-time fast. It’s about learning to balance our hobbies or indulgences with our spiritual disciplines or healthy choices. If your teens are going to give up video games or Twitter, help them replace the time they would’ve spent doing that with something more God-centered, like a devotional book, or prayerful journaling, or volunteer work. If they’re going to give up coffee or soda or sugar, help them replace those unhealthy voids with natural stimulants and energy foods (like apples or bananas).
The point of Lent is not to suffer and then forget. The point of Lent is to examine, to fast intensely in order to see the positive difference a change can make in one’s life, and then—afterward—to adjust one’s life and practices to reflect something that is overall more healthy. Teens should understand that, once Lent is over, if they just resume their usual habits as if Lent never even happened, then they’ve missed the entire point. The goal is that they’ll want to incorporate their new habits and practices into their lives, even after the 40 days are up.