Tell Your Kids Pointless Stories

This is part 3 of a 4 part blog series. The other three posts can be read herehere, and here.

About a month ago Paige and I let Soren watch his first superhero movie. We try to avoid anything in which violence is glorified and with most superheroes they win only by being the best fighter. But the old Superman cartoons are different. Superman isn’t violent at all. The bad guys are violent, but he never throws a punch. So we sat down and watched a Fleischer Superman.

And now he is obsessed with Superman. Obsessed.

Stories have a hold on us that we can’t quite shake. They are how we experience and explain the world around us. They get in us and change us. Yesterday I wrote about what to tell your kids about God, but I didn’t tell you how to tell them. Tell them in stories.

Of all the different forms of writing in the bible, story telling is the most prevalent. Some sections of the Bible aren’t told in stories, like the letters of Paul, but clearly take place within a larger story. Jesus himself was a master storyteller.

Jesus taught in parables, which comes from two greek words, para (meaning beside) and balo (meaning to throw). A parable is literally “a thing thrown beside.” They’re called parables because the story is an illustration of a deeper truth. It’s a story set next to a deeper truth.  The interesting thing about Jesus’ parables, though, is that they he doesn’t end them with a morality lesson. He simply tells them and leaves his audience to respond.

This is true of the Old Testament stories as well. The narrator of the story almost never explicitly condemns or condones the actions of the characters. For instance, in the story of Jacob stealing Esau’s birthright and blessing we are never told that what Jacob did is bad. That is left up to us. Sometimes this is shocking, like in the story of Tamar seducing Judah, because we’re even led to believe that what we might label wrong is the action that is praised. These stories are simply told, they are not interpreted for us. They are meant to get in us and change our thinking, not just be told as a quick morality lesson.

I worked at a day care in college and one day I was invited to join in Bible story time. The kids were told the story of Daniel in prison refusing the king’s food opting for fresh vegetables and water instead. At the end of the story Daniel looked healthier than all the other prisoners and was selected for service by the king. The moral of the story: “today at lunch, eat your vegetables.” Ignored was the fact that Daniel followed kosher laws even in the face of extreme political oppression. Nope, this is just a story about how broccoli is good for you.

The way stories from the Bible work is that they get in you and they demand a response. Is the prodigal son’s father a loving dad or a pushover? Are the actions of Rahab in Joshua 2 commendable or immoral? We have to decide ourselves and then our decision says something about us.

I’ve been telling Soren lots of stories from the Bible and for some reason he has really grown attached to Peter. He loves Peter. Peter walks on water, Peter cuts of a guys ear, Peter escapes from jail. He loves for me to pretend to be Peter, grab a pretend sword, and cut off his ear. He runs in the room and yells “I’m Peter and Imma cut off your ear!” I’ve told the story hundreds of times and I’ve always said how amazing it is that Jesus puts the ear back on, but a 3 year old boy is more obsessed with the destruction. He’ll pretend to be Peter and I pretend to be Jesus and I say “Peter, put away your sword.” And he goes off script and says, “I’m not going to do that.” He has totally missed the point of the story.

But he hasn’t missed the point of stories. He chose Peter over Jesus because he doesn’t know Jesus yet. For him the natural inclination is to fight, to defend, and to be violent.

One day though he’ll get it. He’ll see who Jesus is and how love and healing are better than fear and violence and when he does this story will be thrown wide open for him. And he’ll understand it so much better than I do because he’ll say to himself, “I am like Peter. I chose Peter before Jesus changed me.”

So tell your kids Bible stories. But don’t go further than the Bible and make up a point to the story. Just tell the story and let it do its work.