A catechist e-mailed me with the following question about helping children to be able to explain why they are wearing ashes on their foreheads on Ash Wednesday:
Do you have anything in print or an article you know of for kids to help explain why they wear ashes on their forehead on Ash Wednesday to their classmates at the public schools? I know the reasons and such but from an elementary child’s perspective would help.
Off hand, I don’t know of an article and I did a lot of Web searching only to find site after site offering adult explanations with encouragement to “explain the significance of Ash Wednesday and Lent to your children,” without offering specific strategies. So, without further adieu, here is my attempt to provide children with the language to explain to their public school classmates why they are wearing ashes.
Q: Hey, your forehead’s dirty. What’s that on your forehead?
A: Ashes…they’re from church.
Q: Why did your church put dirt on your forehead?
A: It’s not dirt; they’re ashes. Today’s Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent. Catholics wear ashes to show that we want to change to get ready for Easter.
Q: Are they supposed to be in a shape or something? Just looks like a smudge to me.
A: It’s supposed to be in the shape of a cross—like the one that Jesus died on.
Q: So you think you’re something special because you’re wearing ashes on your forehead?
A: No, just the opposite. It shows that without God, this is all we are—ashes. It’s a way of admitting how much we need God.
Q: So how’re you gonna change? Gonna become all holy on us?
A: Just trying to become what God wants me to be—a good person.
Q: I hear you guys give up stuff for Lent too. What for?
A: Giving up stuff—like snacks or watching TV or swearing—is kinda like exercise. It’s hard work, but it makes us stronger.
Q: So you can’t have any fun for how long?
A: I can still have fun; I’m just gonna be doing some stuff a little differently for 40 days—that’s how long until Easter.
Q: Then you can go back to being your old self?
A: No, that’s the point. Hopefully I’ll be an even better version of myself!
What parts of this dialogue are most realistic/unrealistic? What would you change or add? Of course, if you find this helpful, print it out and use with your children.