Lent—the forty-day season of journeying, preparing, and fasting between Ash Wednesday and Easter—is one of my favorite seasons of the church year. Unlike Advent, which often gets cluttered up by societal expectations, Lent does not have the competition of extra social gatherings, to-do lists, and gift-buying. Lent is an opportunity to focus on our walk with Jesus toward the cross; we also focus on the empty tomb to explore with curiosity and creativity what changes God might be calling us to make in our lives.
While many people associate Lent with fasting from something (like chocolate or caffeine), I tend to think of Lent as 40 days of opportunity to try something new. This something new can look like taking on the discipline of fasting, but it can also look like study, learning, prayer, or a variety of other spiritual practices. I have also found it meaningful to find a connection between what we are doing at church at what we are doing at home as a family.
This year, our Lenten focus at church is un-busying our lives to make space for an awareness of God. Small groups in my church will be reading through Courtney Ellis’ book Uncluttered: Free Your Space, Free Your Schedule, Free Your Soul, and I have decided that I am going to un-tether myself from digital distractions in the evenings so that I have more time for reading with my kids.
As part of this at-home Lenten commitment, I have decided to select one children’s book a week to share with my kids as part of our Lenten journey together. Each book touches on an important spiritual practice even though the books are not overtly religious in nature.
Week 1: Bizzy Mizz Lizzie by David Shannon
In Bizzy Mizz Lizzie, David Shannon invites children (and the adults around them) to consider the activities that are filling our lives. Have we busied ourselves so much that we are missing the things around us?
Week 2: Wemberly Worried by Kevin Henkes
Through playful wondering and a catchy rhythm, Kevin Henkes explores worry in a way that will connect with both children and adults. Is our worrying keeping us from enjoying the little things?
Week 3: The Tiny Seed by Eric Carle
The Tiny Seed is the story of the journey of a tiny seed across rugged terrain, over the ocean, and through seemingly impossible circumstances. Eric Carle’s beautiful artwork is captivating and invites our imaginations to consider what amazing things are possible. What might be the journey God that is calling each of us to take look like?
Week 4: I’ll Wait, Mr. Panda by Steve Antony
Waiting isn’t very much fun, but Steve Antony offers a humorous take that will leave everyone smiling. We may not enjoy waiting, but so often the wait is worth it. What are we waiting for?
Week 5: Beautiful Oops! By Barney Saltzberg
This little book is a must for perfectionists of any age. Barney Saltzberg playfully explores art mistakes and turns them into beautiful things. Crumpled up paper is an opportunity to make something new. Spilled coffee can make a beautiful picture if we use our imaginations. How might fear of failure be keeping us from seeing what is possible?
Week 6: The Bad Seed by Jory John
The Bad Seed follows the harrowing journey of a sunflower seed from the garden to under the bleachers. Sometimes when life is difficult, we respond by making angry choices. In this humorous book, Jory John invites the reader to remember that our previous actions do not need to define us forever. Transformation is possible. What behaviors is God calling us to let go of? What new things might we be called to take up instead?
Lent is not as much about finding the right answers as it is about becoming brave enough to ask questions. These books are a mere sampling of the wonderful books that I found at my local library, and they could accompany a Lenten journey at home. If these titles do not connect with you, make a list of your own. Jot down a list of the themes you would like to explore at home through Lent, and then ask your local children’s librarian for recommendations.
Though these books are a great way to invite children into the discipline of Lent, they do not need to be limited to kids. These books have awakened in me a sense of wonder and anticipation for the Lenten journey ahead. And, they are even better when read aloud. Whether you have small children at home, whether you are single, married without kids, or have grandchildren, children’s books have a unique way of opening minds and hearts to imagination, wonder, and awe. This Lent, I hope you will take some time each week to reflect on your own spiritual journey, whether that be through children’s books or otherwise. You never know what you might find if you open a book’s cover and look inside.
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