The Power of Story: Everything I know about God I learned from kids’ books

 

I read a lot as a kid.

I read a lot now, but it’s nothing compared to how much I read growing up.

I read in the morning, I read at night, I read in between activities. I read in grade school, I read in middle school, I read through high school. In the seventh grade, not knowing what to read next, I started in the As in the school library and read every book that looked interesting to me (which is how I found Lloyd Alexander’s wonderful books, and also why I read The Sword and the Stone and Ivanhoe in middle school.)

I read books from the library, I read books my parents bought me, I read books I spent my own money on. I was picky about what I’d buy myself, wanting what I considered “real books.” Luckily, my sister was less snobby about her reading material, so when I was done with my real books, I’d read all of her Babysitters’ Club and Sweet Valley Highs.

I read for enjoyment, I read for escape, I read to visit other worlds. My best friends were Anne Shirley and Sally J. Freedman and the March girls and Meg Murray. I had a big fight with my fifth grade real-world best friend because she borrowed my favorite book and gave it back to me with the cover torn off. I’d read it 10+ times, it was dog-eared and worn, so she could not understand why I was so offended.

My mom says I was the only kid she knew who couldn’t be grounded…where is the incentive or consequence in sending me to do my very favorite thing?

I loved to read.

Thank God for all those years with my head stuck in good books.

Literally thank God, because those books were like Sunday School for me. I wasn’t raised going to church (we didn’t even go on Christmas or Easter), and God wasn’t something we talked ever about. I had a school friends who took me to church occasionally, and later to church camps. Their families talked to me about Jesus and I know they prayed for me. But in my home I had no way to learn about God or grow.

When I met Jesus face to face in college I fell in love hard, and hung on tight. I’ve often looked back and wondered how the very limited spiritual input in my childhood could have provided such fertile ground for the seed of Good News to grow.

As I have re-read my childhood favorites, I have found the answer.

I learned about God from the books I read as a child.

 

From CS Lewis, I learned about sacrifice, good-but-not-safe, character, bravery and fear, and received the best picture I’ve ever had of the danger of selfishness and greed (Eustace & the dragon.)

From Madeleine L’Engle, I learned to value mystery, love, and the power of naming and knowing people (lessons I lean on to this very day.)

From Judy Bloom’s books, I learned to explore who I am, and to not be afraid to ask questions.

I could go on and on. I am in awe of the ability of these authors and so many others to present deep, adult, meaningful reality through the power of stories simple enough for fifth graders.

I am grateful to have also had a strong theological education through the churches I’ve been a part of. I’ve studied and taught lists of truths, categorizing the information we have about God. And I like having everything Important listed out in columns and rows.

But thinking about these stories, these great books that were my first picture of God… Maybe it’s not surprising that so much of the Bible, God’s Word, the means He chose to communicate truth over the centuries, is narrative. Story.

The Power of Story

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