When my kids began to move into the preschool years, I spent hours one fall searching for and finally sewing my own Advent calendar. The following year, I agonized over Advent devotionals for what seemed an eternity; I didn’t find anything quite right until the following year, when my sister-in-law recommended a book based on the Jesse Tree and got me involved in an ornament exchange. That was perfect—a Bible story with a big-picture focus, some personal application, and an exciting visual for each day leading up to Christmas.
Then I realized something. While I was doing a great job on preparing my children to celebrate the Savior’s birth, I was doing next-to-nothing to prepare their hearts for the celebration of his death and resurrection, perhaps the most important Christian holidays. My sister-in-law came to the rescue again that year with a batch of Resurrection Eggs—but I still wanted something more. I felt like we celebrated all of Advent, but we brushed past Ash Wednesday and forgot about Easter until Palm Sunday arrived. What we really needed was something that would walk us all the way through Lent. I began looking for Lenten devotionals. After extensive searching, I found that there are very few Lenten devotionals written for kids, never mind any that mimic the format of the Jesse Tree devotions I so loved for Advent.
Then came the suggestion: “You should write your own.” I don’t know if it was my mom or my husband who first made the suggestion, but the idea was echoed and wouldn’t go away. And so, haltingly, I attempted to write my own.
In my mind was the image of an ancient family sitting near a fire while the children raptly listen to animated storytellers recounting days of old and glorious deeds long past. I wanted to tell the stories of Jesus in a way that would draw children in—not because I felt more inspired than the writers of scripture (far from it!), but because I wanted to make their words come to life for my kids. I wanted them to be able to picture the dusty ground, imagine what the disciples might have thought or felt. I wanted to help them feel the power of Jesus’ words by drawing them to his feet.
The Jesse Tree devotionals do a wonderful job of presenting an overview of God’s story of salvation from the creation of the world to the birth of Jesus. I wanted to pick up where they had left off, using Lent to follow Jesus as he healed and preached so we could focus our minds on him and his sacrifice.
I selected the stories for the devotional first by comparing what was found in each of the gospels. I utilized mostly stories that appear in multiple gospels, reasoning that if multiple writers recorded them, then they held special significance. Though the events sometimes occur in a different order depending which gospel you read, I did my best to stick with the order of the majority. Scripture references for each story are included at the top of the page.
One of the things I was hoping to do in my retelling was to do what a good sermon does—explain the context and highlight important details so the significance of the event is clear. While I hesitated to put words in the mouth of Christ or his disciples, I realized that the stories seemed lifeless without dialogue; I quoted where possible or paraphrased to make the language and meaning more accessible.
Each day’s relatively brief reading ends with questions, since that is how I end our daily devotions to ensure mental engagement from each of my kids. I separated the questions into some straightforward, factual questions which would be appropriate particularly for younger kids (“Talk It Over”) and some that require more thought—and perhaps have no answer—to challenge older listeners (“Dig Deeper”). I wanted this work to be flexible, serving my family not only now when my children have limited attention spans and think concretely about their world, but also as they grow and mature and are able to wrestle with difficult questions.
I felt that imagery was necessary for this project, but I did not feel equal to the task of portraying Christ myself. After some pondering, I hit upon the idea of using old works of art for illustrations, thus also feeding my passion for art. I tried to feature as many famous works as possible with the idea of exposing kids to cultural staples; beyond that, I attempted to select work in a variety of styles and from as many periods as I could, ranging from something like the 1100s to the 1900s. I tried very hard not to infringe on any copyright or other laws in this regard, using Wikimedia images marked as acceptable for use in the public domain.
Additionally, I felt it was important to have a daily visual for children to connect with—something like an Advent calendar or the ornaments on the Jesse tree. This time I did rely on my own ability, crafting for each day a small square image representing the story. Together the images form a mosaic with the words “This Is Love,” which I felt was to be the title of this project, based on I John 4:10, which continually rattled around in my mind as I pondered the life of Christ.
I completed this project last year. While I was a bit reluctant to share it, I asked my brother (who is a pastor) if he and my sister-in-law would be willing to read through it and let me know their thoughts. They graciously agreed and used the materials with their family, giving me feedback as they progressed. In addition, my parents and other brother served as test subjects.
This winter, I spent some time re-reading each of the devotionals, editing them for clarity and attempting to follow some of my sister-in-law’s helpful advice about addressing the child in each reading to draw their attention. And so here we are.
I made these for my own family. I have labored over these with love and prayer for many hours. Though I am reluctant to do so because of the feeling of presumption it gives me, I want to share this work with others in the hope that it will bless your families by drawing you closer to God and fixing your minds more firmly on Jesus as you follow him toward the cross this Lent.
Below you can access the PDF files of this first week of daily readings (beginning with Ash Wednesday) and all four of the images you’ll need if you choose to complete the Lenten mural. You can print the devotional back-to-front or simply view it on your tablet or computer to save paper. As for the mosaic, it’s most exciting for the kids if you cut it apart in advance and hand them only one square at a time so they can see the final words slowly coming together. My kids each liked to create their own mosaic, but you could also take turns coloring the images (or have images pre-colored by a parent) if you’d prefer to have only one mosaic on your wall. Note that you will be spiraling from the upper left, moving counter-clockwise and ending with the center piece.
**Day 5 and the 1st Sunday got switched when I was drawing; since neither has a location vital to the final image, I didn’t reverse them. Simply place them correctly as you work through the readings without regard to their original, inverted locations on my drawing. The final mosaic will work either way.
While I am offering these to anyone who can be served by them, please respect the many hours that I have labored over this project; if you care to share it, direct people here to the source rather than copying this material to your own site.
Devotional Material in PDF Form (file of readings first, then four image files for mosaic):