“Who do you say that I am?”
That’s the question that all three of the synoptic Gospels hinge on. And it’s one of the most important questions our children can learn how to answer. Ultimately, of course, we can’t coach them into a right answer: they will only be able to honestly respond when they encounter Jesus and he poses the question. But it is our privilege and sacred duty to introduce our kids to Jesus, to share our own stories and love for him, and to provide them with opportunities to meet him themselves. So I’m very thankful to Martha Zimmerman for prompting a project that is helping my six-year-old and I do just that.
In Celebrating the Christian Year, Zimmerman suggests “getting to know Jesus through his names” during Lent. She provides 40 different descriptions of Jesus (or the Messiah, in prophetic literature) found in the Bible, and suggests doing a daily Bible reading along with looking up each word in the dictionary.
Fantastic idea, but: my daughter glazed over, started squirming in her chair, and commenced eating the Craisins off her brother’s plate while I tried to explain what an apostle (the first name) is. The 2-year-old protested his missing snack, threw his milk on the floor, and devotional time was done for the day. Back to the drawing board.
Right. The drawing board. My daughter loves to draw. I do not. I am an accomplished master of stick figures. Even my animals are stick animals. She forever wants me to draw with her. During art times, I suddenly find that there is laundry to fold or a dishwasher to empty. But here was an opportunity to engage her, do something she loves, and to do some Lenten meditation of my own alongside my daughter. So we started a Jesus Is book.
Here are the basics: I took a simple story journal, and wrote each of the descriptions of Jesus we’ve read so far, along with the Scriptural citation, on each page. I got out her colored pencils, handed her the book, and told her we were going to illustrate each page. She was a little stuck at first, so I pulled out some paper and started working on my own illustration. She watched me for a few minutes, then began her own drawing. When we finished, we explained our pictures to each other; when I got stuck on “the way, the truth, and the life,” she gave me some suggestions. We then read tomorrow’s description (Jesus is a Bridegroom, Matthew 9:15), talked about it for a moment, and put it all away.
What I loved: being forced to put my understanding of some very familiar verses into an image. Using my imagination that way is so much more engaging than simply reading a passage. I loved doing it side by side with my daughter and asking her about her pictures.
And I appreciated the chance to just appreciate her pictures without trying to wrest out the “right” answer. When we were done, I felt like I’d offered her a small, momentary chance to encounter Jesus on her own – and respond on her own. Which is super challenging for those of us who want our kids to Get It Right, and therefore probably all the more worth doing.
When we’re done, she will have a book (and I’ll have a stack of pictures) that we can return to whenever we want to spend some time getting to know Jesus better. One of Zimmerman’s repeated injunctions is to “put something where you can see it, so your eye can remind your heart.” That insight is at the core of much Christian practice, and it’s so perfect for helping children (and all of us, really) learn to meditate on God and his ways.
If you’re interested in trying something like this, you can track down Celebrating the Christian Year; you can also compile your own list from this helpful index at BibleGateway.com. I’m curious to hear from anyone who tries it, especially those of you who, like me, aren’t native-born artists. May we all come to a deeper and more intimate knowledge of Jesus during this season!