I was excited to receive my long-anticipated copy of Tending the Garden of Our Hearts in the mail yesterday afternoon. So excited that I have already finished it!
During the last Advent fast my youngest children were old enough to participate in Welcoming the Christ Child: Family Readings for the Nativity Lent. I found it helpful as well, because I had to digest each reading and retell it for the very youngest ages. As any teacher knows, you learn more when you have to teach something to others. When I found that a similar book of Lenten readings/meditations was going to be available for Lent this year I was delighted!
Tending the Garden of Our Hearts has a very simple and logical format. There are six sections corresponding to each week of Lent and one for Holy Week and Pascha. Each week has a theme set by the particular Sunday of the Lenten Triodion: Forgiveness, Orthodoxy, Prayer, The Cross, The Ladder (almsgiving), and Fasting. The readings of each day explore this theme using examples from scripture readings and the lives of the saints (both old and new). The use of stories is always effective when teaching a lesson whether to children or adults and I found them to be engaging and age-appropriate. There are a few simple questions at the end of each reading to encourage attentiveness and discussion. An appendix at the end of the book contains suggestions for some activities and crafts for each week, some extending through the entirety of Lent. These are optional, however, so if you can only do one or a few you will not be “missing out.” (Because my children so thoroughly enjoyed matching each advent ornament to the picture in the book and hanging it on our tree, I fully intend to do a “path to Pascha” garden with numbered stones. Otherwise, I am afraid they will not be as engaged.)
One wonderful aspect of this book is the potential it has for growing with your family. As your children get older they will understand more and the discussions will be different each year. Crafts that may have seemed overwhelming with toddlers will be positively fun with those in primary school. Prayer ropes may be made with pony beads this year, but in a few years you could all be learning how to knot them yourselves. This book is not a once-and-done! Even if your children are tiny you can now get them in the habit of setting aside a daily time to pray and listen to a story. Planting these small seeds and “tending the garden” of their hearts is a slow process, but one that has the potential to bear heavenly fruit. I heartily recommend this book for families of all descriptions, even those who are still awaiting children!
[I received an advance copy of this book from Ancient Faith in return for an unbiased review.]