There is great value in the calendar of the Church: The services, readings, and hymns of each day allow us to experience God in different ways. The various cycles and seasons combine to form new and beautiful structures that bring different facets of our faith into focus. Most of us don’t get to go to church every day, and we miss out on much of this beauty. Seasonal devotionals like Tending the Garden of Our Hearts can help us keep in time with the rhythm of Christ’s Church in our home.
Note, Ancient Faith Publishing has graciously provided me a print copy of this book as an incentive for an honest review. Because the print version was not available at the time, this review is based on an electronic advance reader copy in PDF format.
Tending the Garden of Our Hearts: Daily Lenten Meditations for Families is a book of daily devotionals, specifically designed for the 50 days of the Eastern Christian season of Great Lent and Holy Week. The book is written to be used in a family setting, though it can be profitably read by an individual. In addition to the daily readings and thoughtful discussion questions for each day, the book contains an appendix, detailing three “Countdown to Pascha” family craft ideas (in the spirit of an Advent calendar) and 30 pages of crafts and object lessons for the different weeks of the season. (See the image gallery at the bottom of this post for an example.) The daily readings are written in a style that is accessible to all but the youngest children, yet they contain enough depth to fully engage adults.
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Having successfully used Elissa Bjeletich’s similar, Nativity-themed, Welcoming the Christ Child with our young family (three children under 6 years old), I was happy to find this book in time for Great Lent, and I can’t help but compare the two as part of this review:
Comparison #1: While Welcoming the Christ Child has a companion set of ornaments and has the color pictures repeated in the book, Tending the Garden of Our Hearts has no pictures. One of our kids’ favorite things during the Nativity fast was uncovering the picture and then figuring out how it related to the story. The “countdown” craft ideas may make up for this. (Because I received an advance reader copy, the devotionals we read were not done during Great Lent, and thus we haven’t yet done any countdown.)
Comparison #2: The readings in this book seem a little longer. They’re certainly not too long (3—4 pages), but holding the attention of busy, young kids occasionally became a challenge.
One fantastic inclusion is the “How to Use This Book” section, especially the encouragement that you don’t have to play catch-up if you miss a day (or five). With this type of daily devotional, trying to make up for lost time often becomes discouraging, and it’s nice to have “permission” to just move on.
The readings follow the general “theme” of each week of Great Lent and Holy Week, and most are based on the life of a saint. Each one is interesting and thought-provoking. The questions at the end of each reading are of two flavors: There are two-to-five how-well-were-you-paying-attention questions (with answers); these serve as a recap, if needed, of the main points of the reading, and are particularly good for younger kids. These are followed by a longer, open-ended discussion question. (See the image gallery at the bottom of this post for an example of both types of questions.) With our young crew, we don’t use the discussion questions, but they’re excellent, and I look forward to the day when we can use them.
I believe this book will become a treasured tradition at our house for years to come.
How to Get the Book (Links)
Tending the Garden of Our Hearts is available now from Amazon.com (including a Kindle format), Ancient Faith Publishing, and other booksellers. The book is coauthored by Elissa Bjeletich and Kristina Wenger. Much of the content was taken from their 2018 podcast special of the same name. A version of the daily readings for younger children is available in podcast form from Ancient Faith Ministries.
Following are three sample pages from Tending the Garden of Our Hearts: (1) An example of the discussion questions at the end of each reading; (2) the first page of one of the readings; (3) the first page of the “Countdown to Pascha” craft ideas.