How do you explain sin to a child? This was our dilemma last year during our sixth grade religious education class, but since it was October, my favorite month, and I had lots of pumpkins about the house (happy happy happy) which inspired me, and I thought of a way.
I brought in a smaller pumpkin (depends on the size of your group but we used a pie pumpkin for our class of about 15). Everyone gathered in a circle around a table that held the pumpkin and got a thumb tack. The script went something like this:
“Can everyone hold onto their thumbtack, and try to imagine something that you have done in the last few weeks, months or even a year that you feel bad about? Maybe you hurt a sibling, fought with a friend, or didn’t do what your mom or dad asked you to do? Maybe you broke something that belonged to someone, or said something that wasn’t true about someone at school? Maybe you just listened to someone else say something untrue about someone else and didn’t stop them?” (Give the kids a few minutes to think. If anyone needs help, suggest that they remember something they were punished or scolded for by a parent or teacher).
“Now as we pass the pumpkin around stick your thumbtack into the pumpkin while you consider what you did wrong.” (Passing pumpkin around the table giving each student a moment to think).
(Once the tacks are all in place, hold the pumpkin so everyone can see what it looks like full of the thumbtacks. Say:) Let’s say a prayer. (At this point you can hand out an act of contrition, or make up a prayer asking for forgiveness for the sins that the thumbtacks represent).
Heavenly Father, we place these tacks knowing that we are not perfect. We make mistakes and these tacks represent one particular mistake that we would like to say we are sorry for, because we know our sins can hurt; they can hurt You, ourselves and others. So we ask you for your forgiveness if we haven’t already.” (Read prayer or give everyone a moment to reflect on their sorrow for their sin).
(Now instruct everyone to think about their forgiveness as they take turns removing a tack. Remind them that the tacks are just symbols, so as not to get caught up in which one they particularly stuck into the pumpkin, just to remove one and think about God’s forgiving that sin).
“As you remove the tack, remember how much God loves you. Jesus died on the cross so that our sins could be removed far away from us, and forgotten. God has forgiven you when you feel sorry and confess your sin, so know as you take the tack out, you are forgiven.”
Once the tacks are all removed (and collected by a responsible person so as not to cause disruption), hold up the pumpkin again and say:)
“Notice that the sins are gone. The pumpkin has no more tacks. But what do you notice about the pumpkin now?”
(The kids should notice that the pumpkin is full of holes, and at this point, some of the holes may be seeping, which kind of looks like tears, although we didn’t make a big point of this).
“The sins have been removed, but there is still damage to the pumpkin. The reason we need to pray, is to ask God for help so that we don’t sin. Even though God forgives our sins, there is still someone in world that we may have damaged with our sins. It is important that we do our best NOT to sin in the first place. While we are all human and make mistakes, we can ask God to help us to be careful with each other and ourselves, and live the best life that we can.”
For your older teens and youth groups, this lesson can lead to an excellent discussion (and group break-out) about purgatory and why we as Catholics believe there is this period of reparation for our sins after death. You can even leave this discussion for the following week or week after, and bring the pumpkin back in for the class to see how it decayed faster since our sins “poked the pumpkin”.