We've tried a lot of Lenten devotional practices with the children over the years, some simple, some elaborate. We've done simple Lenten countdowns. (You can find several ideas for those here.) Those are nice and predictable; the kids always like them, but they serve chiefly to mark time, with little if any instructive value. We've also done the braided bread devotional, with the toothpick thorns. Though it lacks the always-popular calendar marking aspect, it has a lesson and incentive which we appreciate. Part of that devotional is explaining to the children how our sins offend Jesus, using the toothpick thorns as examples. Then, through the forty days, the kids get a hands-on lesson in "making up for offenses" by removing toothpick thorns when they performed good deeds. Really good stuff!
But none of those ideas were working for us this year. We're in the midst of another possible job change for my husband and a move across the country for all of us. I'm just not mentally or physically "in the zone" right now for an elaborate "to do" this Lent. But I really wanted to do something.
Something simple. Something that reinforces the understanding among the children that, though it's good and profitable to offer up our Lenten sacrifices, like sweets and TV (and coffee for me!), the whole thing is meaningless if it isn't done out of love for God. And the best way to show love for God in the daily life of a kid is by showing love (a.k.a: being nice) to the people they live with. Little Johnny Anklebiter may be kicking butt at offering up candy, in other words, but if he's pinching his brother and swiping crayons from his sister, too, he's missing the point of Lent. I wanted something in a fresh new easy devotional for the season to drive this idea home (literally). We're supposed to be joining our hearts with Christ's during Lent.
Aha moment! Joining hearts... That was the ticket!
This is what we came up with:
Throughout Lent, every time I "catch" the children in a good work -- anything from doing their chores without complaining to sharing without being told -- they get to draw a heart of their own within Jesus' Sacred Heart. We're planning on having His whole big Heart filled with our little hearts before Easter. And we have a pretty good start, just one week in!
This is a particularly easy devotional to make. We used a whiteboard, but a piece of poster board would work as well. With wet erase markers, we drew a big heart and fashion the crown of thorns across the middle, with the fire of Jesus' love at the top -- all signifying the Sacred Heart. We wrote one of the St. Bridget prayers on one side for the children (and us!) to keep in mind the great love Jesus had for us through His sufferings. Truly; what is there that He could not have done for us that He didn't do? And on the right hand side, we added the prayer of St. Francis of Assisi for some practical advice on charity and selflessness. But, I'm sure there are many prayers that would work very nicely. Or the whole thing would work just fine without the prayers, too.
We used a wet erase marker for the prayers and the Sacred Heart Image just as a practical means of keeping it put until Easter, but we've been using a dry erase marker for the little red hearts that the children fill in. This way, if someone commits an error against charity that Momma catches, the perpetrator can go erase a heart. The children have been working for the happy chance to draw their little hearts in, puzzle-like -- and are in dread terror of having to erase one. (None erased yet!) So, mission accomplished! I'm getting just the effect I'd hoped for. With no outlay of money and no complicated preparation. It's a good last-minute, no-hassle option if you haven't come up with anything yet. :)
I missed the deadline to join up with the "Keeping Love in Lent" carnival (that I just stumbled across!), but anyone who stumbles across this post, might want to trip over there, too. Lots of really great ideas for families for Lent in the links! Click here for the home page.