Heritage of Faith: Once Upon A Time

As Glenn and I drove away from Grace Maternity Hospital in Halifax on that cold February afternoon in 1979, I was terrified. Our baby girl was just a few days old and I couldn’t believe they were already letting me actually, making me take her home. They must have known I didn’t have a clue what I was doing. (For goodness sake, Doctor Roy had to re-diaper her after my pitiful attempt right before they made us leave the hospital.)

IMG_1981 (2)On the drive home, I examined every curve of our angel’s sweet face — and I worried. I worried about diapering, potty-training, about sending her to God-only-knew what kind of kindergarten teacher. (Miss Bissell was the best, it turned out!) There was so much wrapped up in this bundle! Then the enormity of what really was happening hit me: held in the crook of my arm was a real person who had a God-planned destiny — a place and purpose waiting — and we were the only parents she had.

I imagine most Christian parents wonder as I did, and perhaps even with the same sense of inadequacy, “How on earth are we going to bring this child to Jesus?”

Having taught in Christian schools, I’ve watched parents spend time and resources to accomplish what is, in our post-Christian culture, a daunting task. They know, as I knew, two things: first, they are more invested in the success of this mission than anyone else on earth; and second, the part they have to play is huge.

As Christian parents, we become very adept at using the tools designed to help us safely pass the faith into the hands of the next generation.

– We take advantage of church, Sunday school, youth group and Christian camps.- We enrol our children in Christian schools.
– We teach Biblical truths and model Christian values such as fear of God and service to community.
– We encourage our children’s engagement in ministry at appropriate levels of maturity.

And we are so thankful for the help we get! Often over the years, and especially during our daughter’s teen years when she preferred her peers’ company to that of her parents, I thanked God for youth leaders and pastors who engaged young people. They are gifts from God, without doubt. They help with what Psalm 78 describes as God’s established method for passing on the faith.

We will not hide them from our children, telling to the generation to come the praises of the Lord, and His strength and His wonderful works that He has done. For He established a testimony in Jacob, and appointed a law in Israel, which He commanded our fathers, that they should make them known to their children, that the generation to come might know them, the children who would be born, that they might declare them to their children, that they might set their hope in God, and not forget the works of God? (Psalm 18:4-7)

He appointed a law: Tell the children the stories!

God showed Jacob the link between hearing God’s stories and hoping in him and then, as we see later in the psalm, walking in his ways. When I saw that connection (i.e. “hoping in God” is a natural response to knowing him through his stories, and hoping, in turn, leads to walking with him) it took me right back to when I taught school in College Station, Texas.

I was teaching fourth grade that year and it wasn’t going well. The problem — my problem — was that two ten-year-olds had effectively deposed me and had taken over my class. After spending months trying everything I knew to regain class control I threw a bit of a tantrum in front of God, complaining about the boys and telling him what a great year I’d be having if only those two terrors were somewhere else.

I wasn’t expecting a response, and certainly not the one that came. In my heart I heard, first, “Where would you have me send them?” and then, “Tell them about me.” At that moment, a picture flashed through my mind of our daily devotions. Every day, spouting biblical principles, I had attempted to use guilt and fear as behaviour modification tools. For my sake, not theirs. But God wasn’t interested in mere modified behaviour. He wanted the boys to know him. At the time, I had no idea how telling stories could make a difference, but I was desperate enough to at least try. That very day, I stopped using our devotional time to teach proper Christian behaviour and told God-stories instead. I told David and Goliath stories; Abraham stories; Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego stories; Mrs. Seale stories (borrowed from the first-grade teacher); my stories and anyone else’s that showed God’s “strength and his wonderful works”. I was just their teacher, not their parent, but it worked. Before long I saw two ten-year-old hearts change — and one cranky teacher’s heart. Our behaviour changed along with our hearts. (Story told in Chapter One of Keepers of the Testimony.)  A humanist and outspoken atheist, the well-known author of children’s books, Philip Pullman, said it plainly: “‘Thou shalt not’ may reach the head, but it takes ‘once upon a time’ to reach the heart.”

It wasn’t until years after we left Texas that I saw in Psalm 78 what had really happened back then — that all three of us had seen God’s heart through his stories and his heart had touched ours. Without knowing it, I had put into operation a kingdom principle that would apply far beyond our hot, portable classroom. It’s not just Bible stories our children need; they need our own IMG_5397real life, real time God-stories. Along with the gospel truth that brings hope of Heaven, and beyond godly principles that make for good living, our children need to hear from our lips and see in our lives that God is still doing wonderful works. Loren Cunningham, founder of Youth with a Mission, put it this way, “Stories wrap truth in emotional context; that’s what makes the impact. God’s stories are eternal, while ours show how the truth is relevant today.”

It seems God has known it all along.