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Changing Your Family’s Hearts This Lent

My son brought home a craft project from his kindergarten class the other day—the outline of a heart filled in with torn scraps of construction paper, titled, “I love you to pieces.” It is an adorable piece of art, and it is in serious contention for inclusion in The File I’m compiling with specially chosen items saved from his early schooling, home crafts, Sunday School memories, and the like.

I love you to pieces. It’s a cute sentiment, paired with the scrap-paper heart. But it stuck in my head as something more as I started thinking about Ash Wednesday and the season of Lent, a season that can help focus our attention on Christ’s call to repentance.

So what does repentance look like? And how can we answer the call to repentance in our homes and in our families, together, as this season of Lent begins?

True repentance calls us toward a radical life change. See how the prophet Joel describes it in the Old Testament Reading for Ash Wednesday:

“Yet even now,” declares the LORD,

    “return to Me with all your heart,

with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning;

       and rend your hearts and not your garments.”
(Joel 2:12–13)

It’s a complete reshaping of one’s life according to God’s design. “Return to Me with all your heart,” the Lord says in verse 12. Change the way you live—with fasting and weeping and mourning. Let the sorrow over your sin and brokenness be reflected in your actions.

But it’s a complete reshaping of one’s heart too. “Rend your hearts,” the Lord says in verse 13, “and not your garments.” Let the sorrow over your sin and brokenness be felt in your innermost self. 

And maybe that’s the more difficult task here, the changing of one’s heart. Outward signs can be faked, after all. We can put on a really good show for the people around us when the situation calls for it, can’t we? So repentant, our actions might say. Can’t you see how sorry I am?

But if the heart’s not involved, it’s no better than my kids “apologizing” to one another because I’m standing next to them, only to pick up their bickering and fighting right where they left off once I’m out of the room. An unrepentant heart hidden under the shredded and scrapped garments of false contrition counts on a good outward show to distract others around us, letting us sneak by unchanged.

But we can’t fool the Lord.

The One who created us knows us intimately. He sees our false outward piety, and He hears the beat of our unrepentant hearts, and yet He still invites us back into relationship with Him. “Return to the LORD your God,” says the prophet Joel, “for He is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love” (Joel 2:13). Such good news for those of us who have struggled to get our hearts right!

Because ultimately, we can’t get our hearts right on our own. It’s only Jesus who can show us what that change of heart and what that life completely reshaped according to God’s design looks like.

“I love you to pieces!” Jesus says, and He rends Himself upon the cross, taking all our sin and our brokenness and our false contrition to the grave. And that’s where He leaves it.

Jesus, risen from the dead, gives us new hearts—hearts that are capable of repentance and shaped by God’s eternal love for us. “I love you to pieces!” we can say back to Him, as a forgiven people, holy and pure. And because God first loved us, we can love others, sharing with them the same call to repentance, the same call to reshape one’s heart and one’s life according to God’s design, through faith in Jesus Christ.

This Lent, I want to help my kids learn more about true repentance. As we read through stories from The Story Bible that focus on Jesus showing love to others, we’re going to make a paper heart chain, adding a new heart each day to remind us how Jesus loves us and has forgiven all our sin. Forty purple hearts will wind their way around our dining room as the season progresses, drawing our attention toward Jesus and His gracious call to repent, believe, and follow Him each day in the way of love.

We’ve been helping our oldest son memorize the Lord’s Prayer, and we’ll keep doing that, focusing on the Fifth Petition, which asks, “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” We’ll keep working on what it means to ask for and grant forgiveness when one sibling hurts or annoys the others. And I hope to model that seeking of forgiveness and a truly repentant heart in my own interactions with them each day.

Our middle son sings “Jesus Loves Me” to himself during quiet times throughout the day, and I want to sing that simple children’s song with him and his brothers as we add each day’s heart to our paper chain.

My prayer is that, through repetition and simple rituals, the rhythm of a life centered in repentance and forgiveness will be passed along to our young children.

What does repentance look like to you? And how might you return to the Lord with all your heart, and help your kids experience that same spirit of repentance, during the season of Lent? May God bless your Lenten journey!


Help your kids understand the meaning of Lent with Waiting in Wonder for Easter.

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Written by

Caitlin Dinger

Caitlin is a DCE with 20 years’ experience in congregational and outdoor ministries. She is wife to Andrew, a pastor, and mom to three little boys. Caitlin enjoys gardening & home preserving, Jane Austen, and photography. Her life is powered by a lot of forgiveness, and a lot of coffee.

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