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What Is Lent?

March 2, 2022 | Emily Ford Sytsma

What is Lent? 

The word “Lent” comes from an old English word that means “lengthen.”  The Christian season of Lent comes in a time when the days are beginning to lengthen.  We begin Lent in the darkness of the winter, but spring is on the way. As are the hope and joy of Easter morning.

Lent lasts for 40 days.  It is about six weeks long, starting on Ash Wednesday and extending until Easter. Because the date for Easter changes every year, Lent happens at different times as well.  It usually includes some of February, some or most of March, and some of April.  

Why do Christians celebrate Lent?

Some Christians and some churches celebrate Lent, remembering Jesus, who spent forty days and nights in the desert, without food or drink. Jesus went into the desert to fast and pray in preparation for his ministry.

Lent is the time when Christians prepare for Easter by engaging in various spiritual practices.  These practices usually fall into the following three categories:

  • Prayer
  • Fasting
  • Almsgiving or charity

What happens at school?

Prayer: During Lent, we use worship time to hear the stories of Jesus’ life.  And after each story, we offer the children time to reflect using drawings.

Fasting: This aspect of Lenten practices is usually left for home and family, though children may hear others talking about “giving something up” for Lent.

Almsgiving or charity: Students are invited to participate in a school-wide service project.  Each year the middle school students choose an organization or cause to support.  Each Mustard Seed School student takes home a box to use as a bank for collecting a donation. For younger children, we invite families to find meaningful ways for the child to contribute. Maybe they earn the coins they contribute by helping at home.  Students take their coin bank boxes home at the start of Lent and bring it back to school just before Easter. 

Dr. Lisa Miller says in her book, The Spiritual Child, that “we are hardwired for spiritual connection (29).” And at the same time, “We can cultivate children’s natural spiritual assets into richly developed strengths for a lifetime (177).”  In other words, spirituality is both a child’s nature and something that can be nurtured.  

Lenten practices are spiritual practices.  We hope that the children will experience a little more quiet and space in this time to connect with their inner experience, as well as with each other and their community through collective experiences.  We hope it will lead them to feel like they are part of something bigger than themselves.  We hope that the quiet and encouragement to be reflective this Lent opens up for them habits that might strengthen their understanding of God as good and loving.  We hope they will begin to understand that we can respond to God’s goodness and love by extending that goodness and love to others in acts of service.

Emily Ford Sytsma

Early Childhood Director

Ms. Sytsma began her career as an educator working in inclusive classrooms in the state of Hawaii but found her roots began to grow here at Mustard Seed School when she came to teach in 1996. She joined the preschool team in 2007, after teaching for many years in the Middle School. She finds delight in the preschool’s approach to teaching and learning, inspired by the preschools in Reggio Emilia, Italy. As Early Childhood Director, she seeks to support teachers in their work helping children learn about thinking and creative expression.

Ms. Sytsma’s the mother of a MSS alum and a current student. When not at school, Ms. Sytsma enjoys traveling with her husband and two children. She tends a very simple rooftop garden in Jersey City Heights and on long Saturday mornings, she may be seen taking long walks along the Hudson River and listening to audiobooks or podcasts while organizing her thoughts and getting her heart rate up.

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