I’ve just finished my first listen-through of Dicken’s A Christmas Carol for this Christmas season. Yes, I said first. I have an audio version read by the incredible Tim Curry. He pours so much into the story that I still find myself tearing up at his performance of Bob Cratchett’s loss of Tiny Tim and Scrooge’s regret at rejecting Belle. That story reminds me of so much that is good in humanity. It reminds me that God made us good and we need a stiff, if frightening, reminder of God’s expectation occasionally.
In some discussions lately, I feel like stories have been getting a bad rap in the church. In particular, it seems like as people grow older, the stories in the Bible seem to feel less meaningful than abstract discussion of doctrine or nuance of interpretation. While I, for one, do enjoy a good roundabout, late-night jaunt through the finer points of theology, kids aren’t really built for that.
Kids go through very specific developmental phases as they age. At each stage their thinking is defined by typical thought patterns that are generally common to that group. For example, children don’t really understand the idea that there is a perspective outside of their own until they are around 7 years old. Think about that for a second. Children typically aren’t wired to handle abstract discussions about things like faith, love, and kindness until the age of twelve – and that’s when the concepts start to make sense. And, remember, these age categories are fluid and change depending on the child. Some hit markers early, and some later.
That said, kids learn best through storytelling. The story of the Good Samaritan makes way more sense of the phrase “love your neighbor” than a discussion about the concept of kindness. Stories help make abstract concepts concrete. But stories do more than that.
Stories help make sense of our faith. Yes, we can talk about trusting God through the toughest times, but the stories of Job, Elijah, Moses, Abraham, and Mary humanize the concept and make it more real. One word that occurs regularly in the law and prophets is “remember.” Whether God is remembering His people’s plight or the people are remembering their covenant, remembering happens in the context of a story. If you were to read the entire Hebrew Bible, you’d notice how often the Exodus story is retold over and over in the prophets. You might even catch that Jesus intentionally places his act of self-sacrifice within the context of that same story. The story, the narrative that God is crafting throughout Scripture tells more about who God is than an abstract discussion. God is active in these stories and that action shows us His nature.
Just because you learned or enjoyed something as a child doesn’t mean it has no bearing on you as an adult. Sure, I grew up, but I still enjoy the foods, stories, and movies I watched as a child. In fact, I get so much more from them now that I have more experience.
So don’t give up on stories just because you grew up. Instead, live in them. Let the stories change who you are becoming. Don’t forget the power of a story to influence who you are.