“Take [your] children outdoors to view God in nature. They can be pointed to the blooming flowers and the opening buds, the lofty trees and beautiful spires of grass, and taught that God made all these in six days and rested on the seventh day and hallowed it.” Child Guidance, p. 533
I waited, guitar in hand, wondering if she’d even come to the door. Then, there she was. Her wrinkled face broke into a smile when she saw the children and recognized us from church. Soon she started singing the carols along with us. Tears welled in her eyes, and my own eyes misted up too. Going Christmas caroling was supposed to be good “for the kids,” but somehow I felt warm inside too.
When we do something for our kids and for God, He makes it good, and not just for the kids. As a ministry wife, traveling to different churches on Sabbaths with young children, I’ve had wonderful experiences passing out GLOW tracts and doing outreach. But sometimes it’s not so easy, such as when my husband needs to make private visits and we’re in a strange town. What then?
As I wonder how I’m going to entertain my school-aged daughters, the Spirit prompts me not to be negative. After all, am I not someone who likes the challenge of making lemonade out of lemons? Am I not thankful that we have a ministry family and that my husband is deeply dedicated? But how do we do it?
I recently asked other ministry spouses on Facebook what they do with their kids on Sabbath afternoons. Their ideas included visiting the sick with something special the kids have made (cards, pictures, flowers, small loaves of bread); holding a treasure hunt in which the kids use Bible verses to find clues; and creating a Sabbath craft box with everything needed to make cards or bookmarks to give away.
Shelli mentioned bird watching. Nicole, mother of three, suggested charades or reading together. Adel’s son gets a “Sabbath treat.” Amy’s kids enjoy giving out Our Little Friend and Primary Treasure (with stickers inside) to other kids at parks and beaches. One wife says her older kids help take care of younger kids if there is a seminar at church on Sabbath. Another family has “Sabbath dolls” for their little girls, which only come out on Sabbaths.
Do children have to like every activity? LaRae, now a ministry wife herself, says, “We kids were required to go with Mom and Dad for pastoral visits or other outreach-oriented activities. Though I can’t remember specifically how, I know Mom and Dad clearly taught us a life of helping and serving others was a natural outgrowth of a Christian life. I don’t remember enjoying all those visits at the time, but now as an adult, the self-control to do what is best is strong. . . . Be honest with your kids and talk about the call on our lives to serve others.”
Quite a few mentioned going outdoors for a walk or to a park. Nature can engage grownups too. Parents are encouraged to “take their children outdoors to view God in nature. They can be pointed to the blooming flowers and the opening buds, the lofty trees and beautiful spires of grass, and taught that God made all these in six days and rested on the seventh day and hallowed it” (Child Guidance, p. 533). But instead of just taking a walk, why not do some of these activities along the way?
1. Listening Game: Stand in a circle, holding both fists up. Silently close your eyes for 30 seconds. Listen for sounds and put up a finger each time you hear a sound. After the time is up, open your eyes, count the sounds, and share what you heard. Another option: try counting the colors you can see from where you are.
2. Spiritual Object Lessons: Look in nature until each person finds something from which to draw an object lesson. Take turns sharing. Or blindfold someone and have them guess the nature object you found by feeling it.
3. Bible Pictures: Build a Bible scene out of nature objects and then guess what the others built. Have people share why they like those stories.
4. Magnifying Glass: Mark off a square outdoors (3 x 3 feet or one square meter) and give each child a magnifying glass. Then let them find whatever they can. Learn the names of bugs, grasses, and flowers you find. You may also want to draw or take pictures of them and paste the pictures in a nature notebook.
5. Nature Scavenger Hunt: Print seasonal sheets from the Internet. Give each person a list of items to collect and a plastic bag. Have each child display their findings and share briefly.
6. Nature Activity Books: Books such as The Gospel According to a Blade of Grass, by Terry McComb, provide tremendous resources. Take them along when you go into nature, do an activity together, and share the lesson from it. You’ll learn a lot you didn’t know about God.
Whatever activity you choose, take time to ask questions and talk about how each person’s ideas relate to our spiritual lives. For example, if someone chooses a rock, encourage them to think of a Bible story, verse, or hymn that includes a rock, and then talk about how Jesus is our Rock. Perhaps sing the hymn or memorize the verse together. Ask questions such as, “When has Jesus been like a rock to you?” Of course, conversation should be adapted to appropriate age levels. Anything can be a springboard for deep spiritual conversation with our children. Let the Holy Spirit lead.
The Bible asks a question of importance to parents: “Where is the flock that was given to you, your beautiful sheep?” (Jer. 13:20, NKJV). Another quote has often motivated me to do something for or with my kids on Sabbaths: “Parents, above everything take care of your children upon the Sabbath. Do not suffer them to violate God’s holy day by playing in the house or out-of-doors” (Child Guidance, p. 533). That’s pretty straight talk!
We only have a few years with our children. Let’s embrace each Sabbath afternoon, making sure we know where they are physically and spiritually during that time, and not become “weary while doing good” (Gal. 6:9, NKJV). Yes, it takes attention, planning, and sometimes even personal sacrifice of our own desires (like taking a nap!). But when we have our “flock” with us when Jesus comes, we’ll have many happy memories. Even better, we’ll know our sacrifices have been infinitely worth the effort..