Sunday, December 4, 2016

Begin a Works of Mercy Wise Men Tradition with 16+ Picture Book-Inspired Service Acts

Happy second week of Advent!  

The Beginning of Our Works of Mercy Wise Men

Two years ago, on this day, I shared my idea for marrying picture books, wise men, and service to create a new family tradition. 

Then, last year, at this time, I was so busy living Advent that I never got around to sharing how the children and I had brought my idea to life as what we dubbed our Works of Mercy Wise Men.

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On the first day of Advent, the children found our Tales of Glory Wise Men in this vignette:

Then, together, we chatted about why the real wise men traveled, who they were going to see, what Jesus was said to be (a king), what we typically do for kings (serve them), and what kind of king Jesus was (a servant king). 

The children and I, then, continued on to talk about how we can model after Jesus in general (by serving and living works of mercy) and, how we might do so specifically using the supplies our wise men were found with (perhaps making pictures or cards in the style of the illustrations in the book to bring joy to another).  I explained that, throughout Advent, the children might find our kings anywhere in the house with picture books and more and that, whenever
they did, if they felt inspired to, they could pause our day to serve someone else.  They loved the idea, and, with it, our Works of Mercy Wise men were inaugurated in keeping with the Year of Mercy focus we'd begun with and our Works of Mercy club and Advent-turned-Works of Mercy-chain.

Throughout the rest of Advent, my children discovered our Works of Mercy Wise Men in different vignettes, and, then, after reading whatever book the wise men were on or near, they "chatted" with the wise men about suggestions for a work or mercy (or simple kindness) we could offer.


It was so much fun to see the children's imaginations ignite as they "conversed" with the wise men.  It was equally delightful to hear what Works of Mercy the children came up with after "sharing secrets" with the wise men and cuddling to read together with me.

Some days, the acts of mercy the children decided on were simple ones, such offering prayers for the living or the dead.   Other days, they were more involved, such as making extra laminated prayer bookmarks to gift others or taking special trips to the store for supplies to feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, or clothe the naked.  Still other days, the works of mercy the children came up with brought us together with neighbors, such as "visiting the imprisoned" (elderly neighbors who cannot get out much and enjoy company.)  Always, with inspiration from picture books and  "conversations" with our Works of Mercy wise men, the children and I found ourselves better preparing our hearts for the coming of Jesus. 

The Tradition Continues

Making the Works of Mercy Wise Men a new tradition in our home offered much fruit last year, and, thus, even though I have been seeking to simplify a bit this year, our Wise Men are back.

The vignettes the Works of Mercy Wise Men become a part of this year are uber-simple.  Often times, just a book and a quickly jotted phrase or sentence.  Still, the children look forward to finding the wise men daily, to reading together whatever story the wise men are with, and to deciding on a way we can love and serve others that day (or soon thereafter.)

Likewise, I look forward to how heartwarming it is to witness my children brainstorming kindnesses and carrying them out.

8 Books and 16+ Ideas to Get You Started

If you'd like to get started with Works of Mercy Wise Men for the rest of Advent, or, perhaps, between Christmas and Epiphany, here are some simple book-and-service ideas to inspire you and yours.  The first idea for each book is what I had in mind - but did not share aloud - and the second is what my children came up with on their own.  Not all of the ideas are literal Works of Mercy, but each helps children exercise virtues as they act with love and kindness.


Pair the book If He Had Not Come - or any alternate title that brings to mind the reason for the season - with a small sign that says those exact words "the reason for the season".  

My Idea: Think about how we can live the season with the real reason for it in mind and how we might share that reason with others.  Then, act on it!

The Children's Act of Kindness: 
The children, then, decided to pray with the words the boy in the book prayed with and, also, to pray for the living and the dead by praying an additional prayer for babies.  


Merry Christmas, Strega Nona - or any picture book that highlights holiday preparation or surprises - with a foam question mark, hand-written question mark, cleaning supplies,or cooking supplies.

My Idea:  Discuss practical ways we get ready for Christmas and come up with a way that we might help another prepare or that we might plan a big surprise for someone who could use a lift.

The Children's Act of Kindness: Ask Mom - who has been extra-tired - to get in bed and, then, make and serve her breakfast.


Pair the story "Rosemary's Secret Friend" in Catholic Children's Treasure Box, Book 19 - or any book that highlights conversations with God - with a paper, plush, foam, or wooden heart.

My Idea:  Chat about how we can keep Jesus in our hearts and share him with others and act on one of our ideas.
The Children's Act of Kindness
The children asked to pause our day to pray in our hearts to Jesus.  They decided to include prayers of thanksgiving and petition for Daddy since it is his birthday.



Pair the St Andrew pages of Jesus Loved Them and Lives and Legends of the Saints - or a Bible Story about the miracle of the loaves and fish, or any picture book about St. Andrew - with the three wise men "fishing".

My Idea:
Discuss how St. Andrew left the fishing industry to become a "fisher of men" and think of a simple way we can "fish men" today.  Act on that idea.

The Children's Acts of Kindness:  The children decided we should purchase five loaves of bread and three cans of fish to donate and enjoyed placing some of our donated items in the donation bin for our local St. Vincent de Paul organization. 

They also decided to "quietly evangelize" by praying our usual Eternal Rest prayers when passing cemeteries and offering grace before a meal when we were hosting a friend in our minivan and home.


Pair The Littlest Angel with an empty box, a small bag, or just a small angel figurine.

My Idea:  Consider what precious little items we have to gift forward.

The Children's Act of Kindness:  Since we were not slated to go out all day, the children decided to offer extra acts of kindness and service to one another throughout the day.



Pair The Friendly Beasts or any other book that includes creatures in the manger giving things to Baby Jesus with bird seed (which is what is in that black bin in the picture) or some other animal feed.

My Idea:
Discuss how each creature in the book offers the Christ Child what they can and how we might offer God's creatures what we can.  Maybe make bird or squirrel feeders or donate to an animal hospital or shelter.

The Children's Act of Kindness
:  The children want to make ornaments to decorate a tree for the birds, but would like to wait until it snows to so so.


Pair The Small One with a note that says, "What (or Who) needs a good home?", with an empty box or bag, or with some outsized clothes or neglected toys.


My Idea:  Gift forward some toys, clothes, or other items that we do not need anymore.

The Children's Act of Kindness: The children have noticed that the turtle we are headstarting does not seem to be growing, so they decided we need to look into why and do something about it.  We opted to begin by buying a new type of food for the turtle.


Pair Who Is Coming to Our House with a question that asks how we could welcome an unexpected guest, with supplies to make  a welcoming display, or with supplies to make baked goods or a tea tray to welcome guests with.

My Idea: Chat about how we can prepare our home to welcome unexpected visitors.  Perhaps put something welcoming on the door or in the front entryway and ensure there are snacks and drinks to offer.  Or, work on clearing and cleaning the front rooms.

The Children's Act of Kindness
: The children decided to work extra on cleaning the house in the coming week.

'Tis the K.I.S.S. (Keep It Simple Service) Season

As you can see, we have been keeping our Works of Mercy Wise Men initiative mostly small in scale this year.  This is purposeful on my part

Other goals and commitments for this season prevent me from creating fancy, fun vignettes daily.  And, truly, although such vignettes would add to the merriment of the season, they are not necessary for children to enjoy and be inspired to serve. 

Likewise, just as the Wise Men made a great, long journey one small step at a time, I decided at the beginning of this season that I wanted to stress how we can journey towards Jesus one small choice at a time.  Focusing on small, simple ways that we can love and serve others on a daily - sometimes minute-to-minute basis - strengthens us.  All those small choices add up, building habits in virtue. 

Of course, magnanimous gestures and larger scale service projects hold great merit and are important to make time for.  However, small, simple, practical efforts and prayers can create a positive impact, too.

Might you add a Works of Mercy Wise Men tradition to your family's Advent or Epiphany journey, getting closer to Jesus one small step at a time, too?


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