When I was a child, I loved when my father told me bedtime stories that had me as the main character. Usually my father wove in a few of my friends (or foes) and perhaps even a pet. With thoughts of myself as the heroine, I drifted off to sleep knowing that all was right in my little world.
As parents, we've all noticed how small the world of a child is. Kids see everything from their vantage point, focusing on how situations affect them. It is only as they mature that they begin to see the world as much bigger. One of our roles as parents is to train our children to shift away from this self-centeredness.
And while today's culture is telling our children that life is "all about me," we can teach them to recognize that life is really "all about God." There is a big story here — a grand narrative weaving throughout history. And we are all a part of it. We can help our children glimpse the wonder of this bigger story, which has been gradually unfolding for thousands of years. And we can help them recognize that God has chosen a part for each of us to play.
Here are a few ways to help your kids open their eyes to this bigger picture:
Teach the chronology
Customarily, we teach Scripture through fragmented stories, in ways that aren't linear. Baby Moses is the key figure one day, Noah another day, and Jesus is the key figure on another occasion. Many children who know the stories can't tell you whether Abraham was born before David or if baby Jesus was alive when baby Moses was.
What we sometimes miss when reading individual Bible stories is that there's an underlying thread that reveals God's Word as a giant love story — a story of the Creator pursuing His created ones and desiring a personal relationship with each one of them. When reading or telling a Bible story, we can help our children place it into the larger continuum, reviewing when and where that story took place. We can keep visual outlines handy so they can see the sequence of events, and how what they are reading fits into God's long plan to save humanity. They can see what has happened so far and what is still to come.
By putting each story in context of the grand story, we help our kids recognize Jesus the Redeemer and God our Father as the main characters, even when it appears that someone else is.
Recognize the ultimate hero
Kids love heroes. And when all is said and done, God — through His Son, Jesus — is the ultimate hero! In the big story, good and evil war with each other, evil seems to overtake the world, but then Jesus shows up and conquers sin and death, and those of us who recognize Him as Lord and Savior are saved. Ultimately, He will make everything right.
Often, kids only see pieces of this heroic tale. We all love the Jesus portrayed in the Gospels — in those accounts, Jesus loves us and shows us how to love others. He helps us understand who the Father is and how our relationship with Him should be. But we need to make sure that we portray a fuller picture of who Jesus is. He is both Shepherd and King. He is both gentle and powerful. He is both humble and victorious! Yes, Jesus humbly gave himself as a sacrifice for our sins, but He also conquered death. This is what makes Jesus the kind of hero worth living for. Knowing that He is the ultimate victor gives each one of us the courage to walk with Him even when life is hard.
Tell your story
Take a moment to think about your own story. Think about your family of origin. How did God use the circumstances in your life to bring you to himself? When did you realize that there was more to life than living for yourself? How did that affect your decisions? This is all the essence of who you are — it is a story your kids need to hear.
At an early age, our children can begin to hear parts of our story and to be eyewitnesses to how God is continuing to shape it. I enjoy telling my children aspects of my own faith story in the context of the age they are, the experiences they are facing and how I felt God guided me when I was encountering similar situations.
Even parents who did not experience a relationship with God as children or teenagers can share how the events of their lives led them to faith or how they could have benefited from knowing a God who loved them and had a place for them in His big story. Whatever your story is, it gives your kids insight into life and faith in the concrete context of the here and now. More importantly, it gives them the hope of something bigger than the perceived enormity of their present situation.
Your kids in God's story
Of course, the main goal in teaching our kids all of these things is to help them recognize the epic story that they are uniquely part of.
And what a blessing it is when they see this grand story as something far more than words! One afternoon, I picked up my daughter from a preschool playgroup and asked her if she wanted to get some ice cream. She was thrilled at the prospect. Then we saw a homeless man standing near a stoplight. "What does his sign say?" my daughter asked. I told her that he didn't have a home or job; maybe he was hungry. This disturbed her greatly. As I tried to explain how this sometimes happens, she interrupted to announce that we should just feed him. She wouldn't back down, saying we should take the money we were going to use for ice cream to buy this stranger a meal.
I later learned what my daughter and her dad had talked about that morning at breakfast. He read her the parable of the good Samaritan, and then, before leaving for work, told her, "Today, I want you to look for somebody who needs your help. Be alert! God has someone for you to help today." All day long she had been looking. So much so that when she saw this man who needed a lunch, it was immediately compelling for her.
Our family has since realized that similar opportunities to join God's ongoing narrative are in our life every day — sometimes we're just not looking. When we are awakened to what God is doing all around us, we accept the gift and the responsibility to become part of the greatest story ever told.
Author and speaker Michelle Anthony is vice president and publisher of Learning Resources at David C. Cook. Her most recent book is Becoming a Spiritually Healthy Family .