This transcript has been edited for clarity.
Emily: Welcome back to another episode of Risen Motherhood. I’m Emily, here with my sister-in-law, Laura and we are really excited about this topic today because it’s close to our hearts.
Laura: Yes. We’re both big readers. You guys have probably noticed the exponential amounts of books that we showcase [laughter] on Instagram, Facebook and on our resources page. Emily and I have been so influenced by books that we’re super excited to have an entire show all about books.
Emily: Yes. One thing that we’re starting to dabble in, remember, again, my oldest is five-and-a-half-ish – and Laura’s is four, going on five. We’re just beginning to read really good stories to our children, and use those stories as a means to pass along the gospel to them, and to talk about godly character traits. We do that to use it as a jumping off point for conversation. I felt like one of the most classic examples of that is Chronicles of Narnia.
Laura: Oh, it’s the classic [laughter]. If you’re going to start with a book, that’s the first thing that comes to every mom’s mind.
Emily: Yes, and we were just starting the other day, which I realized as I did, a “C.S. Lewis faux pas…” [laughter]
Laura: Major faux pas.
Emily: I started the series with the Magician’s Nephew.
Laura: For background though, that’s book 1 she started with. Which makes logical sense.
Emily: It makes sense.
Laura: If you Google it, that’s what happens, but anyone who is familiar with Lewis’ work, will know to start with book 2, which is The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, sort of the “classic” that stands alone. So that’s the back story.
Emily: That’s neither here nor there. But we were listening out loud to it the other day. I don’t often do this read out loud, but we do listen to audio books. It was just so fun to fill our house with this good story. I actually found myself as I was walking past the table where they were coloring, listening to sections of the story, especially when Aslan who is kind of the “god-figure” in this story is approached by Digory who has a sick mom. He’s feeling very sad and wonders if this lion will help him cure his mother. He sees tears in Aslan’s eyes, and just realizes that Aslan cares more than he even does, for his mother and his situation.
Here I am busy doing laundry, tearing up, thinking about how God is with us in our grief, and in our sorrow, having all these biblical promises come to mind. It was just a really good example of the way that these well written stories can trigger reminders of deep, biblical truths for us and for our kids.
Laura: I remember always reading Anne of Green Gables growing up, and literally wanting to be best friends with Anne. [laughter] I recently re-read the books – I think there are three of them– but I re-read them and I just fell in love with Anne all over again, her zeal and zest for life. Just her imagination, her ability to see God in so many things. I especially remember as a young child, really loving the way Anne included everyone, and noticed people, and found value in all people. I didn’t necessarily understand the depths of the meaning of that, but I knew I wanted to be like Anne. There were a lot of biblical character traits that she was displaying, that was written in story. I didn’t even understand all that I was taking in, but it was making a really profound impact on the way I lived my life, and interacted on the playground, or with kids in school and things like that.
So, what we’re talking about today is the power that story has to shape our children, and to help them understand the gospel as a whole. Also, different biblical character traits that we desire to instill in our young children. How they infiltrate our children in a way that’s not obvious or intrusive. We’re just going to chat through that today.
Emily: Yes. Exactly what Laura was saying even just using books that maybe aren’t overtly Christian, which is really cool, and we’ll get into that more too. Whether that’s something like Winnie the Pooh, which is very straightforward to just talk through the plot and character traits, or there’s a lot of good moral stories out there, which of course in and of themselves, we aren’t just going to teach our children like, “Oh, just follow this, just behave.” As Laura said, it’s a great jumping off point for discussion.
What is really interesting about this, and why we love story so much, is because God is the great storyteller.
Laura: Exactly. Looking back at creation, you can just even see that God spoke the world into existence. Words were at the very beginning of time. God used words to bring the world forth. That just shows a great way how we can be image bearers of God every time we use words to talk about Him, to share His gifts and His creation with our children. Every time we speak, read, or use words, we image God, and I love that. It’s a communicable attribute of God that we can image.
Emily: Yes, and if you’re considering the way that God’s story went to his people for a long time before written words went onto a page, in a way that was easily transferrable, what did each generation do? They had to tell the next generation the word of God through these memorable narratives. Even if you look at the beautiful, poetic way that God spoke the creation story into existence, that was told that way for a reason. So that people could retell it over and over again, and not lose that important aspect.
Also we see that the whole Bible – we’ve talked about this in other episodes too – is this big metanarrative, which is a word that means there’s one story, and one theme throughout, and that’s the redemption story. But within that, there’s also these small narratives - maybe it’s the story of the way that Israel was rescued from Egypt. Or even smaller within that, maybe the way that Israelites worshipped their golden calf instead of God. There’s all these miniature stories that all point to a greater story. He’s just a great novelist. [laughter]
Laura: Exactly. It’s amazing to think about how God is the original, the ultimate storyteller. There’s a reason we all love a big and amazing story. There’s a reason that we can get caught up in a love story, a warrior story, or in a hero story. It’s like Emily was saying, we can see all these small stories in the Bible, and just recognize how amazing it is that God wove them all together to create one story. Something that Tim Keller says, “It’s important to note that the Bible isn’t just a random collection of stories. It’s united together under one plotline. The tangent between God’s justice and His grace, and it’s all resolved in one thing, the person and work of Jesus.” I love that; we love resolution in stories right? That’s because Jesus Christ is our resolution; we image those things that we see in the Bible. That’s why we’re caught up in the resolution to the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Or those other epic, big stories that we love getting to the end of.
Emily: What is so fun to me when I get to the end of a well written series, is when you find that detail that was the crux of the whole thing. You realize, “Oh, that was mentioned back at the very beginning...”
Laura: Yes, the foreshadowing!
Emily: And your realize you had no idea what that meant until right then!
There’s so much of that even if you look in Revelation. There’s all these pieces that you go, “Oh, that was like back in Genesis.” Or, “That was in Exodus.” Or, “This happened during the prophets.” Or, “This happened when Jesus was here, and they didn’t know that. Now we know.” They’re like, “Look how it all wraps up together just perfectly.” He is just so good at that, and that’s why we love that. That’s why our children love good stories as well, and why they can be engaged in stories in a meaningful way.
Laura: Another way we see story is just looking at the life of Jesus. We see that He taught His people through parables, to shed fresh light on things that were hidden in scripture. A lot of the really famous stories that we all know that Jesus told are things like the Good Samaritan, The Rich Man and Lazarus, the laborers in the vineyard who were all paid the same even though they worked those different amounts. Jesus used story to drive home important points, to tell the same points he’s already made in a different way. We can look at that too to see how story is so important.
Emily: Again, thinking about how memorable that is. Sometimes we can’t memorize the exact verses, I am like, “Oh I don’t know if I can quote that exactly but I can retell that story of the Good Samaritan.” Again, as we are sharing good stories with our children, it sometimes can leave an impression and help their heart understand something that can be difficult with technical language. Jesus obviously utilized that technique too.
Laura: Right. The great thing about story is that anyone can understand them. So you can be very simple minded or child-like, and understand the story and so can an adult too. One thing I love about the Bible is that it doesn’t matter how much we learn about God, how much we study His Word, there is always new truths to mine. No one has ever plumbed the depths of God.
Something amazing about stories is, as Emily was saying, it’ll take these really complex truths and be simple enough for even a child to understand. That’s just another argument or reason to use story to teach our children.
Emily: As we move forward to some more practical things, first off, we just wanted to say don’t take this as another means of pressure in your life. As another burning thought of, “Oh no, another person reminded me that I didn’t read to my children for 30 minutes, minimum today.” [laughter] We know we all feel that. Or you go to the pediatrician and they’re like, “Just remember that you’re supposed to be doing this.” It’s like...
Emily: We don’t want you to feel like that; Laura and I understand that pressure. But we also want to just get you excited about this, just as we need reminders to be excited about this. Sometimes I will listen to a good podcast or something and it just reminds me why I want to do it, why it is important and how it does make an impact. That is our heart as we’re sharing this today. Not to just add one more thing to your to-do list that you feel guilty about.
Laura: Literacy can make you feel kind of guilty as Emily was saying. We don’t want to bring that guilt, we’re just bringing a friendly reminder, and to get you excited about it.
Okay, we’re sure you guys are all thinking right now, “Okay Laura and Emily, you’ve got me re-inspired. What book should I start with?” Well, we mentioned Chronicles of Narnia, is always a safe one. My four-year-old is loving it. In terms of what other books that you could read, our suggestion is to look to wiser people than us who have compiled amazing lists. So on our Show Notes we are going to have a whole bunch of blogs where we get our book resources from – from people who have degrees in literature and different things like that. Unfortunately we’re not going to get down to the practical of exactly what books to start with. But we will list some of our favorites, and our favorite places to find those books to start with over there.
Emily: It’s not just Christian books, although there are a ton of wonderful books out there that are explicitly based on the gospel. We have this book I’ve read to my older children – The Quiltmaker’s Gift. It’s a great example of this king who has all of these presents and things that he owns. He’s really miserable, and there’s one thing he wants that he can’t have – this beautiful, rare quilt. The quilt maker says, “Well, I will make you one if you start giving away all of your gifts and you become humble of heart.” He starts to give away all of his presents, at first very resentfully. Then at the end, he’s given away everything he has and he’s kind of happy, but in tattered clothing.
It’s of course more of a moral story, but it is a beautiful example, and a great jumping off point for conversation to talk about, “Why was the king happier when he was giving away, versus when he was receiving?” Well, that’s something we read about in scripture; it’s more blessed to give than receive. So there’s a lot of stories out there like that, and even actually stories that are not representative of biblical truths. We have to be careful with how we introduce this, and how age-appropriate they are or even talking about characters that are not kind. We’ve had this same thing; this is a kind of different topic, but like shows lately with my kids, like, “Hey why does mommy choose this one and not that one?” Why do you think? What’s in that, that is good for your mind? What’s in that that’s not good for your mind? Early discernment is key.
Laura: Yes, it’s important to remember that in any book, Christian or non-Christian, those truths will push themselves out on their own. I’ve always heard great books challenge people to wonder, and then wonder why. As Emily was talking about – like, “Oh, I wonder what it felt like to give away all of his stuff?” Or, “I wonder why he gave away all of his stuff?” Then like, “I wonder what he feet like after he gave it all away?” Or even things like, “Wow, look at that amazing bike that he built. I wonder how he did that?” Or, “She was so brave. I wonder where she find the courage?”
A lot of those things, you’re children are already probably thinking, but you can help them along. It’s a really simple question to say, “Wow, what do you think she felt when she did that?” Those help your kids begin to articulate the thoughts that are probably going on, but they don’t really know how to make sense of them. But also know, that Emily and I have had multiple conversations with our children, where they completely changed the subject. [laughter] Or they want a snack, they want a TV show, or are completely bored.
Know this, it’s not this idyllic like, “We’re just snuggling on the couch and we’re talking about Jesus for 20 minutes.” No, this is real life. Sometimes those moments happen, and you better believe that we soak them up. But often, it’s just nuggets. It’s just seeds, all the time that we’re planting, and we’re going to capture those moments as we can. Know that most stories – well, there are really some depraved stories so this is where I say “most” – because there are some really bad stories we don’t want to share with our children – most stories are echoes of the greater story. They are echoes of God’s word and his kingdom and his ultimate fulfillment in Jesus Christ. Trust that those things will stir in your child’s heart, and that as you see moments that you can tap into those, and talk with them about it.
Emily: That’s something that comes up a lot, and a question we get asked often at Risen Motherhood is, “How do I have these gospel conversations with my children?” Or, “How do I train my children?” This is one piece of that discipleship puzzle. Obviously it’s living the gospel in front of our kids, but adding story is an element where we can talk candidly and openly about things, even hard things, I think. Trillia Newbell’s God’s Very Good Idea has a lot of good talking points with our kids about differences that we see in people, and how God made everyone in His image. That’s why we need to love everyone, and everyone has sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.
Sometimes when I am telling my kids that over breakfast, maybe we’re memorizing the catechism, it can come across kind of dry. But then suddenly when you open up this book and it’s got pictures, and there’s things they can recognize, and things that they think are interesting, it just totally opens up the conversation fresh again. This is just another discipleship piece for building relationship with our kids.
Laura: With that, along with it, don’t be afraid to stop in the middle of the book and help with comprehension. Exactly what Emily is saying, but essentially be like, “Oh, what’s happening in the story? Can you tell me what’s going on?” Oftentimes I’ll realize my son has a couple of the pieces, but I can help him put them all together.
Especially when we’re talking about children that are so young, they’re going to need that. Explain words, and say, “Did you know what that meant?” If not, you can help them. A couple of times you’d better believe, I am looking at the dictionary on my phone. [laughter] That’s an important piece to not just blaze through a book, and not stop at all, especially with these young children.
Emily: Yes. A word to moms of really little ones, whether they are one year old, or two years old and you feel like, “Oh, can I even make any impact?” I have a lot of friends who started reading the Jesus Storybook Bible to their children when they were really young, like one and two years old. By the time they were talking, they were nearly remembering a lot of the stories word for word. Even though it may seem like it’s above your child’s head, I still feel like it’s a good habit. I remember an older, wiser mom told me one time, “If nothing, do it so that you can start the habit of reading books with your children.” Even if you’re not sure whether they’re comprehending, but often, they are remembering a lot.
Laura: I would even challenge you guys with a baby. I know that when you have a three-month-old at home, say you only have one child. My husband and I would read the Bible to our three-month-old because they’re just laying there … I mean, it’s completely over their head, don’t get me wrong … but those truths are soaking in, We’ve shared about it on the Intentional Motherhood Starts From Day One show. We talked a lot about these really neat stories about children who have things that happen under the age of one, that somehow show up later in ways that they remembered something or were impacted by something. Your child is just soaking up things even then. So we read the Jesus Storybook Bible, then we switched to a little bit of an easier Bible for the toddlers. Then we came back to the Jesus Storybook Bible as they’ve gotten older.
Emily: Totally. It’s just growing with your kids and being willing to try new things, and experimenting too. If you feel like something’s not working, change it. I wanted the kind of idyllic read-a lot experience with my kids. For a long season, it was very frustrating, and I didn’t read much to them because it didn’t look that way. But then we got into, “Okay, we’re all going to play Legos while we listen to this.” We’re going to draw.” “We’re going to listen to a story during lunch, and we’re going to be eating while we’re listening in.” It’s been fun to try out different ways that our kids can still enjoy reading aloud, while still being very busy. [laughs]
Laura: Right. Couple final notes also. Don’t be afraid to repeat books. My mom read Pilgrim’s Progress to my family every January. She’d sit in the hallway where the bedrooms split, and she would read a couple chapters every night. That is something that has become very special to our family; that book. They’ve now since gifted different copies to our children, and it’s just really special. I remember thinking about the “Celestial City,” thinking about the “burden on my back (sin).” Having these images for sin, for eternity, for the journey of Christian going through life. Even some of these more complex books, children can understand. Just set up a time each year, then you don’t even need to find a new book. I mean, how great is that? It’s like, “Great, we’re going to read Pilgrim’s Progress every January,” or whatever that may be. A good tool to use is a liturgical calendar which is just the church calendar. We’ll pop that in the show notes too so you can see how that looks.
Emily: Just to sum today, that it is really a great opportunity to use stories, both Christian stories, and maybe just secular stories to talk to our children about Jesus. To remind them of that big redemption story, and get them excited about that for their own lives, and just help open up good conversations with them. You can find more on our show notes @risenmotherhood.com. Or also find us on social media discussing these things this week @risenmotherhood.com on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. Thanks for joining us.
Laura: Thanks guys.