Finding Your Place on the Family Tree

Last night over dinner, my husband and I listened to a dear friend share her recent journey to find relatives she never knew existed.* This discovery of ancestors on her family tree is opening doors to connect and establish relationships with their descendants. She reveled in hearing their family stories and discovering unique connections to her own life. This journey is also revealing that she has a new ethnicity and people group.

As I listened to her story, I could feel this deep sense of self and identity emerging from my friend. She was amazed at the commonalities she shared with her new family – how she is like them, having similar facial features, kindred personalities and behaviors. As one of her new relatives shared, “This is how we know you are one of us. You look like us.” These familial discoveries are explaining parts of her that she has never understood. The excitement was palpable as she exclaimed “You cannot imagine how affirming this was for me. These are my people. I have a place I belong.”

I started wondering what it is like to find a place where not only are you welcomed but you have a deep connection, a place to contribute, and sense of belonging. I wondered if in our churches, do children feel this kind of connection to the family of God? Do they feel like they belong – not just tolerated or acknowledged, but truly seen and valued, welcomed as equal members of the family? Is there a deep connection to a people group and a place where their contributions are not only welcomed but essential to the life of the family?

The place where you belong

As my friend entered into the church to meet her new relatives, they welcomed her with open arms and proclaimed, “We won’t overwhelm you. We will love you.” They spent time together discovering how they were connected and the different ways they were similar to one another. The new family didn’t try to mold my friend to be exactly like them, but enjoyed discovering her uniqueness and how it contributes to the rich tapestry of their family.

I wonder how children experience the church as family. Do we proclaim to our children “This is your family, the place where you belong. We will love you!”? Or, do we expect them to first learn how to conform to our ways of thinking and behave in a certain manner before we accept them into the communal actions and rites?

In order for children to find a place where they belong, it is important for us, as their faith family, to discover their uniqueness and nurture the ways it can contribute to the rich tapestry of the Body of Christ. Do we value children enough to create space where the are welcomed in and their unique gifts are celebrated and utilized?

I’ve already begun to miss you

The morning my friend was getting ready to fly back to Chicago, one of her new relatives sent her a text, looking forward to the next time they meet again. He added this: “I’ve already begun to miss you.”

It is easy to hear this story from my friend’s perspective – she is the one who is telling it. Her life has been profoundly changed. But she is not the only one. These new relatives are being shaped by her presence in the family as well. Her life is not the only one that has been changed.

As we live in the family of faith, are we being shaped by the children in our midst? How do we see our interactions with children? Is the relationship only one-sided where children are the receivers of what we give? Are we open to receiving from and being formed by the children in our congregations?

One of the biggest challenges to this reciprocal aspect of formation is that it requires we are together. In order for a relationship to be reciprocal, both parties must be present. How can reciprocity ever happen between adults and children in the church if children are consistently sent away from the community? In order for us and our faith to be shaped within community, it must be intergenerational. Children must be present and a part of the community not pushed aside until they are older and we deem they are able to contribute.

I belong to God and to his people

The first question in the Heidelberg Catechism asks this: What is your only comfort in life and in death? The answer is one of belonging: That I am not my own but belong – body and soul, in life and in death to my faithful Savior, Jesus Christ.

For a person’s faith to grow, they must know they belong – belong to God and belong to his people, the Body of Christ. When we truly belong to a community, participate in the communal actions, and share stories of a common history, we are shaped by these interactions. We are formed through relationship with one another.

John Westerhoff, in his book Living the Faith Community, writes: “The meaning of faith is developed by its people out of their common history, by their interactions with each other and in relationship to the events that take place in their lives.” (p. 99) Just as my friend is making meaning of her life by interacting with her new family, our children are making meaning of their faith by their interactions with us. What are we doing that is shaping their identity and sense of belonging to the people of God?

Do our children sense a deep connection to us and our faith stories?

Are they finding their place on our family tree?

* This person gave me permission to share her story.

Photo credit: iStock.com/Zinkevych

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Okay, Let’s Talk about that Crying Baby in Church

If you take your baby to Chruch & sit in the front rows while it cries You not only lack respect for the whole Chruch…but also for the pastor & the message he spend hours and hours creating. You’re self centered behavior is disgusting to me…. yes, I am judging you.  – A recent post on Twitter

People were bringing little children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them, but the disciples rebuked them.  When Jesus saw this, he was indignant.  He said to them, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” And he took the children in his arms, placed his hands on them and blessed them.   – Mark 10:13-16, NIV

Recently, my Twitter feed erupted with pastors, ministry leaders, and mothers all responding to a Tweet from a man frustrated by a crying baby in his church’s worship service.  From what I can tell in subsequent Tweets, this man didn’t seem to be anti-children.  He just felt that this crying child was an obstacle for the rest of the congregation in hearing the well-prepared sermon.  He wished that parents would sit in the back of the church or take their distracting child to the nursery or out into the lobby so that the adults can focus on what’s important to them – the sermon.    

Okay.  I hear you.  You are right.  Children can be distracting in the worship service.  (So can some adults, but that’s a conversation for another day.)  I also appreciate that my pastors work very hard to bring God’s word to his people.  But there is more to the worship service than just a sermon.  Worship is the primary work of God’s people.  God delights when all his people gather together and come just as they are to worship him, including a crying baby.  

When I see a baby crying in church, I envy them.  It’s okay for this child to come to worship and let out an authentic cry for help.  I wish it was the same for me.  But the point of this blog is to not envy the child’s authenticity among the worshipping community. Let’s take a look at Jesus and his disciples and see how they dealt with distracting children when Jesus was teaching.  

In Mark 10, we find Jesus teaching the crowds about divorce.  As most adults know, this topic is probably an adult conversation, not an easy one for children to understand. And after he finished, Jesus and his disciples move into a house, and they continue their conversation.  In the passage following, we see that there was an interruption – maybe it was a knock on the door when one of the disciples was asking a serious question.  Whatever the case, people were coming to bring their children to Jesus.  

Can’t you hear the disciples?  I wonder if they were feeling exhausted after a long day of being around people and engaging in a conversation that was challenging to their accepted norms.  

Knock-knock. Is Jesus there?

Really?  Visitors now?  

Knock-knock-knock.  Can we see Jesus? 

Don’t these people realize we are having an important theological discussion here?  

But that didn’t matter to the people.  What was most important to them was that their children experience Jesus.  On the other hand, the disciples disapproved and scolded the parents, attempting to keep the children away from the important work that the adults were doing.  

I wonder if sometimes the modern church is a bit like the disciples.  We don’t like distractions in worship services or from whatever important ministry task we are doing.  In my denomination, we often place a higher value on biblical learning and theological discussions than on the importance of tactile faith experiences.  Children…like a crying baby in the front row…can be disruptive.  They wiggle and have a hard time sitting still and just listening to the words of faith.  I wonder if we have embraced the same attitude as the disciples.  Maybe it is better if we just keep the children away from the important work that we adults are doing in the worship service. 

Let’s take a closer look at how Jesus responded to this situation.  

He was indignant

Indignant is a strong word.  Jesus was angry, not at the children for interrupting, but at his disciples for keeping the children away from him.  Instead of ignoring children or telling them to go to another room, Jesus rebukes his disciples and advocates for children, physically embracing them. This is incredibly important to note: Children are not a distraction to Jesus and his work.  When we are giving our worship to Jesus, he is not distracted by that crying child in the front row. Instead, Jesus embraces the noisy, the runny-nosed, the laughing, and the crying children right in the middle of his theological work.  

Jesus places children in the midst of the community’s actions.  Not only do they belong here, Jesus reminds us, but they have something to teach us.  Children have a place in our faith formation.  They are models for us in how to receive the kingdom of God and remind us what it means to live like a Christ-follower.  Have you ever wondered what children bring to the faith that we adults might be missing? 

The question we should be wrestling with is not how do we remove distracting children from our worship services, but do we, as the body of Christ, embrace the same high view of children that Jesus does? Do we welcome them into our space or do we try to remove them like the disciples did?  How do these children, these fellow-image bearers of God, testify to Jesus and his kingdom?

How do these children, these fellow image-bearers of God, testify to Jesus and his kingdom?  

In the Gospel of Matthew, when the disciples are wrestling with the question of who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven, once again Jesus responds by placing a child in the midst of a theological conversation. He doesn’t keep children away, but he invites them in, making them the center of the discussion even when they might not understand what is going on around them.  You want spiritual greatness?  Become like this child.  You are really serious about being my disciples?  Change and become like this little one.  

Dear church, in our earnest attempts to meet Jesus on Sunday mornings, to welcome him with our songs of praise and worship, it is essential that we place the child in our midst. “When you receive a child into your presence, you also receive the presence of Jesus. A space is opened up where God can work.  It is a space where God in Christ not only transforms children’s lives but the adults in the space as well.”[1]

For our spiritual transformation, we need the children in our midst of our worship. They have something to offer us…even that crying baby in the front row.    


[1] Fitch, David. Faithful Presence: Seven Disciplines that Shape the Church for Mission. Downers Grove, IL, IVP Books, 2016, p. 135. 

Photo is public domain and available through https://pxhere.com/en/photo/1192392

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Good Curling and Other Unexpected Lessons

curlingDuring the 2006 Winter Olympics, my husband and I stumbled upon the sport of curling and have been hooked ever since. This winter, we decided to learn to curl.

Each curling game starts and ends with a handshake and the phrase “good curling.” Whether you won or lost, the enjoyment of being with others and playing together is the most important part of the game. While we tried to keep balance on a sheet of ice with a Teflon sole on our shoes or “throw” a 44 pound granite rock so that it stops exactly where intended, I learned a lot about the church and community. Yes, that’s right.  I said curling has taught me a lot about what the body of Christ should exemplify. Here are three powerful yet simple lessons the church can learn from curling.

PASSION. Curlers are passionate about their sport. You may as well call them curling evangelists for how much they love the game and want everyone else to enjoy it too. Curlers believe this is one of the best winter sports and want to share the joy they have found. Not only do they say join us and discover for yourself how wonderful the workout, the strategy, and the community are, they also make room for you on their team.

Am I that passionate about Jesus and share the joy I have found in being his beloved child? Do I make room for someone new so they can experience this joy too?

ACCEPTANCE. After the game is over, curlers sit together around a table, enjoying conversation and some drinks. They talk about the game, complimenting one another on great shots or take-outs. Someone might share where he or she is struggling and encouragement and/or suggestions for improvement abound. This is an equal playing field of sorts where participants are not scrutinized or judged by age, vocation, status, or income. A doctor and a part-time crossing guard, a recent college graduate and retiree, a first-time curler and someone who has been curling for decades, sit side by side as equals, getting to know one another and enjoying their time together.

Do I accept people who are different from me? Do I welcome those who might have voted differently, look differently, or live differently to sit and talk with me?

GRACE. Everyone remembers that, at some point, they fell. While it’s part of curling, a slip on the ice can be quite serious and no one wants that to happen to anyone. This sport requires some coordination which, in order to accomplish, takes time and practice. We remember what it was like the first time we tried to curl, so there is grace that abounds and permeates each encounter. While curlers are fiercely competitive, the person is more important than the game, and a bad shot is not held against you.

Do I remember my own brokenness and have grace for others struggling on life’s journey? Or, am I more concerned about their struggle and fall similar to how a bad shot impacts a game?

I am writing this as I sit with a tired body, sore muscles, and a heating pad. While I am feeling a little pain right now, I can’t wait to get back out and try some more curling. How passionate are we, the church, to experience some discomfort to make space for someone new, graciously sharing the love of Jesus Christ?

As Christians, are we as eager for “good church” as some are for “good curling”?

Image provided by pixabay.com and is public domain.
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Spiritual Elopement or a Big Wedding?

wedding

They could have eloped… but they didn’t.

The marriage still would have been legal at a little chapel in Las Vegas or at the courthouse in front of a justice of the peace. It would have been an intimate affair – no one else really is needed, right? Vows are personal and the only thing that really matters is that the bride and groom express their love and promises of faithfulness to one another with someone present who has the legal ability to marry them and sign the certificate. Right?

This past summer, instead of this private ritual, our beloved nephew and his new bride chose to say their marriage vows surrounded by their community of family and friends. With smiles bursting on their faces, the parents watched as their children said their vows. These are the parents who birthed them, cared for, loved and raised them to be the remarkable young man and woman each one is today. Siblings, cousins, grandparents, aunts and uncles – all who have built memories with, prayed for, and invested in these individuals – were witnesses as well. As our nephew and his bride danced into the late hours of the night, friends, both of the couple and of the families, surrounded them as they have in the past to help, encourage, laugh, and rejoice together. To say this was a happy occasion seems an understatement for the love, laughter, and immense joy we all experienced.

This experience has me pondering the paradox of wedding styles and how it relates to my desire (or maybe my lack of desire) for a spiritual community.  Do I like to be alone and private in my faith where it is just me and God or do I like to be surrounded by a loving community in whom I have invested in and they have invested back into me?

In the church, we often say, we are created for community, with one another and with God. But many of us want to experience God by ourselves and are either disillusioned or do not want to bother with a larger faith community. Someone once told me that they enjoyed going to church if it wasn’t for all the people. He just wanted to go, worship God, and leave. He didn’t want to talk to anyone.  He didn’t want anyone poking into his private life. He didn’t want any invitations for dinner. He just wanted his faith experience to be about God and him. But was he missing something, something necessary and profound to his faith, by not inviting others in?

In his book, Letters to a Young Evangelical, author, sociologist and pastor, Tony Campolo tackles the question of why the church is important. (You can read an excerpt here.) First, Campolo reminds us that Christ loves the church and gave himself for it. The church is the bride of Christ and it is precious to him. I must admit, I don’t think I value the church as much as Jesus does. I have seen what I call the “underbelly” of the church and it isn’t pretty. But as a follower of Christ, I want to love what he loves…and if he loves the church, well, then I need to value it as well. Campolo also reminds us that while we can worship alone, the act of coming together for worship is important. This is what Campolo calls a “special fellowship” and this “oneness” that a group of people experience together is a place where sacred experiences are shared. When together, we become a community that encourages and admonishes one another in our sanctification. Last but not least, Campolo highlights that the church is not only Christ’s bride, it is also his primary instrument for social change and society’s transformation. Christ has commissioned the church to go into the world, and through this work, we participate in its redemption.

Pondering this, I believe there is something more to why a faith community is important. If done well (and this can be a big “if”), this community becomes a type of family. In the preaching and teaching of the Word, we share our family stories of faith and their significance. At a baptism, dedication, or wedding, we celebrate the overflowing of life’s joys and remember the love of God. At a wake, funeral or other solemn occasions, we grieve and stand with those who have heavy hearts, remembering the promises of the resurrection. The profound importance of a church community is not just in these big celebrations, but also in the momentary life experiences – the laughter around a meal, the holding of a hand in the hospital room, or the word of encouragement to someone who is struggling with life’s journey.

Yes, I could live a solitary life of faith, but it would not be what God intended. Our nephew and his bride could have eloped, but it was so much more rich and beautiful to have everyone there. Just like a big wedding, it might cost more, but I believe our spiritual lives will be more enriched, profound, and full because we choose to engage in community.

Photo by Andres Rønningen at Unsplash
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There is a monster under my bed!

monster under bedIt was storming outside as we ate dinner with friends. Their young son was frightened by the storm and called out for his dad. As father and son talked in the bedroom, a large clap of thunder sounded, and we all jumped. When our friend returned to the meal, I off handedly said something like “we all want our parents when we are scared.” And my friend’s response caught my attention. “There are many things my son will be frightened of in his life,” he said, “and it is important that he learns to whom he can turn to when he is scared. I will not always be there, and I want him to learn that our heavenly Father is.”

As children, we are easily scared in the dark. Loud noises make us jump. The thought of being alone in a dark bedroom frightens us when we are used to having someone close by. And then there is the imagined…but oh so very real to a child….monster under the bed. In our rational, lights-on world, these things are silly to be scared of – really, there is nothing there! But for the child, they are both overpowering and real, and just the thought of them can leave a child paralyzed and frightened.

Now let’s be honest. There are many things adults are scared of as well. For some of us, it might be heights, public speaking, or snakes. For others, it can be the fear of failure, loosing a job, or lack of money. The fear of abandonment, a medical diagnosis, or an uncertain future can be just as frightening for an adult as a storm is for a child. These fears lurk as monsters under our beds. And in the middle of the night, when the lights are out and we hear them making noises, our hearts start crying out “What will I do? How is this ever going to work out? What if this happens?”

A few weeks ago, our pastor began a sermon series that focuses on the life of Caleb. This past week, we looked at Numbers 13-14 when Moses sent twelve men to explore Canaan. They all came back speaking of a beautiful, fruitful land, but ten men focused on the giants in the land and spoke in fear. The other two, Caleb and Joshua, recognized those challenges, yet their focus was on God. They confidently reminded the Israelites that “the Lord is with us. Do not be afraid of them.” (Numbers 14:9b, NIV) In Joshua 14, we see the result of this faith when Caleb receives both the inheritance of the land promised by God as well as a blessing from Joshua.

Countless times, the Bible tells us to not be afraid or be frightened. This does not mean there isn’t a threat of danger. Usually, from a human perspective, there is! There is something in our life that we are afraid of! God tells us not to be frightened because, like a father talking to his child who is afraid of a thunderstorm, God is reminding us that he is with us and understands the storms of life better than we do. In Isaiah 41:10, our Abba Father lovingly reminds us:

So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God.  I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous hand. (Isaiah 41:10 NIV)

Whether imagined or real, our fears signal to us that we feel a threat of danger. So when faced with these feelings of danger, who do I call out to? Do I respond more like the frightened ten, paralyzed in fear thinking only about the giants in the land? Or, do I call out to my heavenly Father, placing my trust and future in him, who truly is bigger and more powerful than any monster under my bed?

Image credit: Ozgur Coskun/Shutterstock.com
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The Stories We Tell Ourselves

It was the same story again.  I have heard it many times before, but I must admit, I never tire of it.

Yesterday, our pastor, once again, told the story of how, in the 1920’s, our church began on the losing end of a poker game. Yep, you read that right. Our church started with a losing hand of poker. Not only that, the man had bet his wife. Yep, your read that right too. He had bet his wife…and lost. And that crazy incident was part of the way God began our church. (You can read more about this amazing story here.)

I love that my church tells and retells this almost unbelievable story because it reveals something in terms of what we believe about God and ourselves. As the story unfolds, we chuckle at the juxtaposition of a poker game as the foundation for a church. We are reminded that “only God could redeem something this messed up.” By telling this story, we stand as spiritual descendants of these crazy, messed up people and acknowledge that this is not only their story, but part of our story as well. We continue to be amazed that God loves broken people and not only desires to be in relationship with them, but can also use people who are that messed up.

books

It is good to tell and retell stories. As mentioned previously in other posts, stories have the power to shape our identity. Stories can be transformative, and they also remind us of truth. If stories can be that powerful, what does this mean for the stories we tell and retell ourselves over and over and over again? What do these stories reveal about who we are, what we believe, value and desire, and what we might fear? When I go back to these stories time and time again, what is so important or profound in the stories that I am trying to connect to or make sense of?

The Israelites often told stories over and over again. The Psalmist tells us:

I will speak using stories.
I will tell things that have been secret since long ago.

We have heard them and know them.
Our fathers told them to us.
We will not keep them from our children.
We will tell those who come later
about the praises of the Lord.

We will tell about his power
and the miracles he has done. (Psalm 78: 2-4, ICB)

Faithful Jews today still start each Passover Seder by retelling themselves the story of their ancestor’s exodus from Egypt. The youngest child asks, “Why is this night different from all other nights?” By recounting this story, they remember that they were once slaves in Egypt and their God not only delivered them but did it with amazing wonders and plagues.

So what story do I tell myself over and over again? With this question in mind, I did a little exercise, asking myself what are my three favorite fictional stories I keep going back to? Upon reflection, I realized these stories tell me something about myself. I desire a righteous world where good triumphs over evil (Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling). I yearn for a community that loves people and is willing to enter in even if I shut the door on them (A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman). I hope that I grow from past mistakes, and the consequences of those mistakes can be amended (Persuasion by Jane Austen).

We all have stories we tell ourselves over and over again. Family stories. Faith stories. Stories of great trials and stories of profound deliverance. We read and reread these stories because they reveal a part of who we are and what is important to us. The Jewish people retell the stories of deliverance to be reminded of a great and sovereign God who can deliver them from their struggle. My church tells the story of broken, messed-up people and a gracious, loving God who can redeem anything.   I reread a story to be reminded that in the end, sin and death will ultimately be overcome.

What story do you tell yourself?

Image provided by pixabay.com and is public domain.
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The Transformative Power of Story

light forward

… the right story is like the light as it appears to someone walking in a dark tunnel….  (Horst Kornberger)

I recently returned a book to the library and felt as if I was saying farewell to a dear old friend.  Before dropping the book in the return slot, I held it for a moment, not wanting to let it go.  I savored the power of a good story, a story that was thrilling and imaginative as well as challenging and profound.  I had entered into a story and it had touched my soul.  After reading it, something in me had changed.

Each semester, I teach a class on transformational education where we discuss the power of story.  As you can probably tell from previous blog posts,  I am currently researching the importance of stories in identity formation as preparation for class this fall.  Reflecting on this library book farewell, I wondered what is it about a good story that has power to capture not only the imagination but also the heart. How does a simple story change someone?  Robert Coles, a well-known child psychiatrist and professor emeritus at Harvard University, suggests:

“Novels and stories are renderings of life; they can not only keep us company, but admonish us, point us in new directions, or give us the courage to stay a given course.  They can offer us kinsmen, kinswomen, comrades, advisers – offer us other eyes through which we might see, other ears with which we might make soundings.”¹

Good stories speak a universal tongue and can transcend boundaries of culture, religion, language, and time.  They have an influential power to shape us and our thinking, teach us new ideas or challenge old beliefs.  Stories teach in an indirect way.  Instead of telling us what we should do or providing us explicit directions in how to accomplish it, stories engage our heart and imagination, providing examples of who or how to be.  Horst Kornberger in his book The Power of Stories, states:

“To the soul, the right story is like the light as it appears to someone walking in a dark tunnel.  It engenders hope and shows a way forward.”²

We see an example of how stories can enlighten us in the biblical account of Nathan’s confrontation with King David in 2 Samuel 12.  David lusted after Uriah’s wife, Bathsheba, and slept with her, resulting in a pregnancy.  To cover up the affair and hide his wrongdoing, David then instigated various plans that finally ended in the murder of Uriah.  As 2 Samuel 11:27 points out, God was not pleased with David and his actions.  The prophet Nathan, a trusted advisor of King David, rebuked him using a simple story of a rich man who has much wealth, cattle, and flocks of sheep.  Rather than using his own, this rich man takes a poor man’s one beloved lamb, slaughtering it as a meal for guests.  Through this simple story, a light began to illuminate the dark tunnel of envy, selfishness, lust, and murder that had encapsulated David’s soul. Not only was David convicted of his own sinfulness, but as Psalm 51 demonstrates, he embraced a hopeful way forward.

This is transformation and stories have the power to transform.

The questions I am asking myself is what stories am I engaging in?  How am I being transformed by the power of The Story?

¹ Robert Coles, The Call of Stories: Teaching and the Moral Imagination (Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1989), 159-160.
² Horst Korberger, The Power of Stories: Nurturing Children’s Imagination and Consciousness (Edinburgh, Scotland: Floris Books, 2008), 74.
Image provided by pixabay.com and is public domain.

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Saturday Mornings, Nazis, and a Talking Donkey

IMG_2141Tell me another story when you were little…. When I was a little girl, on Saturday mornings, I would crawl into my mother’s bed and ask her to tell me a story about when she was a little girl.  Nestled in her warm embrace, I heard stories about war and perseverance, Nazi occupation and resilience, scarcity and resourcefulness. This world was very different than the one I grew up in, and through these stories, I learned many things.  I learned how my grandmother could make a meal from two potatoes and an onion. I heard how chocolate from an American soldier was both scary and a treat. And I understood that the women in my family were able to endure much hardship and still emerge strong, loving, and hopeful. Many years later, when I wrestled with a hardship of my own, I drew courage from these stories, realizing that they had become part of my story.

Several years ago, The Atlantic magazine published an article entitled “What Kids Learn From Hearing Family Stories.“* Along with many developmental benefits such as a better understanding of other people’s thoughts and emotions, higher self-esteem, and stronger self-concepts, children and youth “hear and tell stories of their family to understand who they are and from whence they came.” Family stories have great impact on our lives and who we become. As the author points out, stories only cost us our time, memories, and creativity. But these family stories “can inspire us, protect us, and bind us to others.”

Family stories impact our identity.

The Bible is full of stories. There are stories of kings and queens, ordinary people and a spectacular God, friendship and love, rape and hatred. And don’t forget one of my favorites – a story of a wicked man and his talking donkey (Numbers 22). The overarching story of the Bible is the gospel – an amazing story of God’s profound love for his children and his plan to rescue and restore them through Jesus Christ. In the church, we tell and retell these stories to be reminded of our history and where we came from. These stories shape our understanding of who we are and who we can become. These stories remind us that whatever I am experiencing right now – whether it is of great joy or deep pain – is not the whole story but only part of it.

If family stories impact our personal identity, then telling the faith family’s gospel story impacts our spiritual identity as well. As The Atlantic encourages us, telling family stories only takes time, the intention to remember, and maybe a sprinkle of creativity to keep it fun.  The question I am pondering is this: Do we understand the profound power of story in our faith journeys?  Are we intentionally making the time to tell and retell our gospel family stories to each other, so that we will be inspired, protected and woven tightly into our community of faith?  I pray that we are.

*Reese, Elaine. “What Kids Learn From Hearing Family Stories.” The Atlantic, December 9, 2013.
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Why We Tell Stories

It’s one of those times in life…

My soul needs to know that God profoundly loves me.

I must be reminded that He cares for me and the trouble I find myself in.

I want to hear that He will rescue me from the pain striking at my heart.

… So I go back to the Story.  

fairy tale

Once upon a time…Those four simple words extend an invitation for the listener to enter in and to encounter a different world. If it is a good story, we will encounter truth, hope, and a deeper understanding about ourselves and the world we live in. A really good story echoes truth about God.

Often when we become an adult, we may disregard fairy tales as childish because we believe the lie that they are not true. We use our intellect to disregard the possibility of a fiery dragon or scheming witch or devious wolf that can devour us.   But think for a moment.  In this broken world, have you not come across a dragon, a witch, or a wolf in your life? I know I have.

British author, Neil Gaiman, states: “Fairy tales are more than true: not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten.” That is why we tell stories.

I often tell my students that the first biblical story a child should learn is the story of the Good Shepherd. Some of them question this.

“The first story?” they say. “Why is this most important? Isn’t Christ’s birth, death, and resurrection more important?”

“Why yes,” I respond. “That story is very important, but there is one more important story a child should hear first.”

“But what about sin? Shouldn’t we understand our sinfulness first?”

“Ah, the time will come for a child to understand his or her sin,” I say, “ a time when he or she is ready to really understand the consequences of it.”

We tell the Gospel story of the Good Shepherd first to enter into a world where there is a shepherd who deeply knows and loves his lambs. He watches them, cares for their needs, and seeks to keep them from harm. And when that lamb finds him or herself in trouble and deep pain, the Shepherd will search for them and rescue them from trouble they are in.

“Isn’t this the Gospel?” I ask my students. “In this story, we encounter the incarnate Jesus Christ, God in the flesh who came to rescue us from our sin.”   In this story, we not only encounter Jesus, we are also invited to respond. And we do not just respond in an academic way. A good story will engage our hearts as well. We respond to the love between the Good Shepherd and his lamb. And we give thanks.

I hold in my heart the truth…

… that the Good Shepherd profoundly loves me.

…that the Good Shepherd cares for me and the trouble I find myself in.

…that the Good Shepherd will rescue me from the pain striking my heart.

This is why we tell ourselves stories.

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Sharing the Easter Story with Young Children

Recently, someone asked how to tell a young child the Easter story. The person was concerned how to talk about death and resurrection in a way that a young child will understand. I thought I might share with you how I responded.

Children learn best through story, so I would recommend that you create a special time and explain that you want to share a very precious story with your child. This communicates that this Easter story isn’t just any old story, but one that you hold very dear. If you have already explained Christmas as Jesus’ birth, build on that, encouraging the child to remember the baby Jesus and that this is another part of his story – a story of his later life when he was much older. And then tell the story as factually as you can and tell the whole story – meaning that you briefly start with Jesus’ ministry then go to Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter. Tell the story with hope and joy, not death and sadness. This is the first time the child might be hearing the gospel story, so set the right tone from the beginning – this is awesome! We celebrate this because Jesus loves us! And we are now filled with hope and joy!

Also, don’t be afraid of big words like disciple or resurrection. But make sure if you use big words, you explain them. If they don’t ask you what they mean, ask them and then share the meaning with them.

And lastly, allow time to reflect and ask questions about things that don’t make sense. Spend time wondering with your child – what was it like to be a friend of Jesus? Wonder what it might have been like to see Jesus ride on a donkey with great exclaim and then be accused of such wrong doing later that week. What might you feel if saw Jesus again on that Resurrection morning! One good way to help reaffirm the story (and to make sure they understand the basics) is to encourage them to retell the story with you to another family member.   Maybe you can share the story with another parent over dinner tonight and then again later with your entire family at Easter dinner.   This helps the child remember the story and encourages it becoming part of the child’s own story.

As I write this, I sit here wondering what it is like to hear the Easter story for the first time. May we enter these next few holy days with that type of wonder.

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