On our first night to start the Jesse Tree eight years ago, 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.
So often, I don’t realize what high expectations I have on something until it doesn’t go my way.
That 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.
No matter what amount of “the devotional” was read or what we did–just by making Jesus and His word a priority in our home and family the heart of our traditions, we were leading our children to the cross.
In the moments that followed, we did share a Bible 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. The process took some redirecting and creativity on our part to engage our children. There was a lot of stopping and starting.
BUT the end result was 2 adults and 2 children 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.
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 along the way.
YOU do not have to put any pressure on yourself or your family to make this all go perfectly–even somewhat perfectly.
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 you can search and print out at home.
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 idea across.
We have created some SIMPLE TRUTH cards to help you with those short attention spans! They have a short “take home” truth from each story to help you begin planting seeds of truth in their hearts.
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. 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 even traveling) 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!
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. You don’t want to force them to do it!
Three minutes, Five minutes, Ten 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 what YOU accomplish in your family devotional times, His word always accomplishes what He desires.
He is pursuing the hearts of our children, and despite 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.