Please Tell Me a Story
Stories are powerful tools to help our children connect with healthy images of God
by Linda Kondracki
"Who needs another father, anyway?" a ten year old blurted out following a lesson in Sunday School stating that he could have God as his heavenly father. "I've already got one and I'm not too thrilled about him!"
It is a fact of life that our early experiences have a dramatic impact on our understanding - or image - of who God is, and how He either relates, or doesn't relate, to us. At some point in our recovery journey, most of us will struggle with our understanding of God, and the distorted images we have used in the past to try to connect with Him. As adults, it can be a long, agonizing process to disconnect with those distorted images and reconnect with the reality of who God is and all He can be in our lives. As parents and teachers, the next question becomes, "How do we help our children connect with the reality of God in their lives and avoid the distorted images?" Here are a few points that can help:
- Banish spiritually abusive language from your lives. "God will punish you for lying," "God is so disappointed in you when you act that way," "Go to your room and ask God to forgive you for your bad attitude," or, "God wanted you to have an alcoholic father to build character in you," are all examples of spiritually abusive language. If you grew up with such messages, you may be passing them on to your children, or allowing others to pass them on to your children, without even realizing it. In addition to checking out your own messages, do not allow other family members or well-intentioned friends communicate in such a way to your children. You may want to ask to sit in on your child's Sunday School class occassionally, too.
- Use stories to offer your children a rich smorgasbord of healthy images of God. Because the Bible uses the language of God as our father most frequently, we have often overlooked the many other images used to describe the reality of God in our lives. Jesus used many images to help the people of his day understand God, and communicated them through stories. Using these stories with your children is one way to help them build healthy images of God. I have a clear memory of being deeply touched by the picture of Jesus holding a little lamb and hearing the story of the Good Shepherd - when I was only 4 years old! Looking back, I now realize that that image has sustained me throughout my life much more than the image of God as my father. By offering them many images children will be able to choose the images most helpful to them. Remember, stories are powerful means of communication; let the stories speak for themselves and resist the urge to sermonize about their meaning.
The activity box below contains one way to help children connect with powerful Bible stories. This activity is especially helpful with pre-school children, and can be adapted to any story. Older children can act out stories for other family members and friends, or make story books to share with younger children at home, church or in the neighborhood.
In addition to the story listed below, here are a few other suggested stories to get you started:
- The Good Shepherd - Luke 15:1-7
- Jesus and the Children - Luke 18:15-17
- Jesus Assures Thomas - John 20:24-30
ACTIVITY: Story Box: The Loving Father - Luke 15:11-24
You will need:
- A shoe box
- A 12"x18" piece of felt or fabric for the story mat
- 5 roundheaded clothespins
- 5 small pieces of clay or Play-Doh
- Scraps of fabric, felt, yarn and pipe cleaners
- A small container in which to make mud
- Small plastic pigs, as from a farm set
- OPTIONAL: Popsicle sticks and glue
Use the clothespins, pipe cleaners and fabric scraps to make people: the father, sons, and one or two townspeople. Mix a small amount of dirt and water to make mud for the pigpen, and place it on one end of the story mat. Put the pigs in the mud. If you have popsicle sticks, use them to make the father's house and put it on the other end of the story mat. Let children use the clothespin figures to tell - and re-tell - the story as Jesus told it. When they are done, wash out the "pigpen" and store all figures in the shoebox. Keep it in a place where your children can get it out whenever they wish.
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