Last year, on our first night to start the Jesse Tree…our little Jesse Tree came crashing down to the floor after our daughter decided it would be fun to look closer at all the ornaments. After we swept up the broken balls, and hung back up the ornaments and decorations that could be saved, we tried again.
Not even 2 minutes into the story, our son had to go to the bathroom. We settled into the couch a few minutes later, and Richard and I were ready to finally start this long awaited tradition with our family. After a paragraph of the story, our son was up wandering around the room, and our daughter was laid out on the couch asking, “When is this story going to be finished?”
Needless to say, we were discouraged and frustrated. I know we both felt like giving up…and even wanted to say, “Look! We are trying to have a little fun, family time here! We are trying to teach you about Jesus! Can’t you just sit still for a minute?!!”
So often, I don’t realize what high expectations I have on something…until it doesn’t go my way. This evening was a perfect example. Richard and I decided to pray. It wasn’t our 4 and 2 year old who needed to change, but it was our perspective of how this “family devotional” time was supposed to go.
After a brief cry to God and a big breath, His grace gave me the chance to look around the room and see the moment. My children were excited, and happy about starting something new. We were all snuggled together on the couch in jammies, in a warm, decorated house. We were together…and Richard and I had the best intentions of teaching our children about Jesus, and our need for a Savior.
No matter what amount of “the devotional” was read, or what we did…just by making Jesus a priority in our home and His word, and family the heart of our traditions–we were leading our children to the cross. Relax Jacki, Relax.
In the moments that followed, we did share a Biblical story with our children. We did sing a song in worship to Him, and we hung our first ornament on the tree. It didn’t start out as I had imagined, and the process took some redirecting and creativity on our part to engage our children, a lot of stopping and starting, but the end result was 2 adults, 2 children, and 1 big yellow dog singing at the top of our lungs…”He’s got the whole world in His hands.” The whole evening was perfectly imperfect. And we loved it.
I tell you that story to first be real with you…that we are right where each of you are…with young kids, just desiring to reach their hearts, but also trying to control the chaos! Our Jesse Tree family devotional times sometimes go smoothly, but most often they are really bumpy–and we learn alot along the way.
Also, I share that story with you to encourage you that YOU do not have to put any pressure on yourself or your family to make this all go perfectly…even somewhat perfectly…but the Bible stories, songs, and activities are a guide–tools to help plant the seeds in your children’s hearts.
God will take care of the outcome. My prayer is that you too will experience some perfectly imperfect moments as well.
With that being said, I will share with you some things we have learned along the way, some tricks, if you will, that have helped our children really attend and enjoy the Jesse Tree…
1. Bring out the colors and playdoh! Many children listen better when they are busy with their hands. Many of our devotional stories have printable coloring sheets to go along with the story.
2. As a teacher, I learned a general rule: Most kids attention spans equal the same amount of minutes of their age. So, if you have a 3 year old–that’s 3 minutes! Not very long, right? So many times, we are even summarizing the stories to make it short and sweet, and get the main ideas across.
3. Act, act, act! Kids love acting out a story…and they are instantly engaged and feeling a part. If possible, have your children act it out while you tell the story.
4. If possible, try and read the story yourself the night before to help you prepare. Even practice reading it aloud. Kids love a good story, one with different voices, and whispers and shouts where appropriate…so know your story.
5. Turn out the lights, light a candle, or sit around tree when it is all lit up. A change of scenery can do wonders!
6. With the hustle and bustle of the holiday season, some evenings we were going to an event or party (or even travelling), and would do our Jesse Tree in the car. These were some of the best times…your kids are confined, there is nothing else to do…so tell a story! We would hang our ornament from the rearview mirror!
7. Use the extended activities to peak interest and/or reinforce ideas. Example: Build the “campfire snack” from the story of Elijah, and tell the kids the story while you are doing it, and they are eating the yummy snack! Or how about telling story of Jonah during bathtime?!
8. Do devotional over a meal. If meal times are somewhat calm for you, try reading the story over the meal, and after singing songs, or doing an activity.
9. If you have kids of various ages, it’s a good idea to teach up. So, use approach to reach and engage oldest child–and through play, reinforce truth to younger kids.
10. Stop when it is still fun! It’s okay to pack it up if the kids are not into it, or life circumstances need your attention, or it will produce a negative effect on your family. You don’t want to force them to do it! 3 minutes, 5 minutes, 10 minutes…you know when your kids are into it and want more…and when it is time to stop. So, stop when it is still fun, and positive memories have been made! You can always finish the devotional after Christmas! There is no rush.
I am so thankful that God’s word does “not return empty, but will accomplish what He desires and achieve the purpose for which He sent it (Isaiah 55:11).” So know this, no matter whatYOU accomplish in your family devotional times, His word always accomplishes what He desires.
He is pursuing the hearts of our children, and through our imperfections, life’s interruptions, and best efforts…He is achieving the purposes for our children to be rescued, and know the Rescuer. Whew, now that is something we can call perfect.