My Sunday school class was and wondering about how the Israelites might have felt as they fled Egypt with an army hot on their trail. The song “When I am Afraid I Will Trust in You” played softly in the background as we scrawled pictures of things that scare us (mostly monsters). Seven-year-old Justice was eager to talk about her picture — a scene from a movie she’d seen on TV. “The man was running to get these people,” she said, eyes wide, and voice getting louder with each word. “And you know what he did!?!” Her sister remembered what came next in the film. She clamped her hands over her ears and shouted “NO! Don’t say it!” The other five-, six-, and seven-year-olds reached for their ears and began shaking their heads. But before I could stop her, Justice blurted out, “HE ATE THEIR HEARTS!!!”
Scary as they are, Halloween goblins and fictional films aren’t the most frightening things kids and families face today: job losses, foreclosures, abuse, family feuds, and illness. How can we help kids handle the spooky shadows as well as the real turbulence of troubled times?
We have to help kids get to know a mysterious God who loves us, and whose giant plan we can’t always understand, says author and Calvin College professor Robert Keeley. Dr. Keeley encourages parents and kids’ ministry leaders to share God’s stories and trust in the Holy Spirit to apply their meaning. Too often, he cautions, we pin a single purpose on a story, or try to attach a moral ending like Aesop’s fables. Instead we should ask questions, wonder, and help kids explore Bible stories from many different angles — putting themselves in the shoes of the people we meet in Scripture. Through these stories our kids get to know a great God who sees them, knows them, loves them, and calls them! In Helping Our Children Grow in Faith, Keeley writes, “If we live with these stories as part of the ebb and flow of our lives, we can see that God is working in our lives in the same way that he worked in the lives of Joseph, David, and Samson.”
It just so happens that there are LOTS of scary times recorded in Scripture. Think of Joseph, Moses, David, Elijah, Gideon, Esther, Job, Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, Abednego, Stephen, Paul, and Jesus ... just to name a few. There is hardly anyone in Scripture that didn’t face trying times! (Which is a good reminder to us that we can expect our share too). God saw each of them and was with them — listening, providing, comforting, guiding, challenging, strengthening, protecting, and delivering. These stories tell us something about the way God will take care of us and our kids when we’re shaking in our boots, or called to a challenging task.
We can help kids relate to the stories of Scripture by focusing on feelings. Though we don’t read about facial expressions and stomachs tied in knots in Scripture, that doesn’t mean they weren’t there! As we share stories we can ask kid’s how Peter’s face might have looked when he heard the rooster crow, and imagine what he might have been thinking as he watched Jesus from a distance. Although kids don’t connect with early Roman culture, many can relate to the feeling of disappointing someone, being betrayed or abandoned, caught in a lie, or put on the spot. They have experienced a taste of the confusion and fear Peter felt that night. And they need us to help them walk with Peter through the rest of the story, to discover as he did that Jesus won’t abandon them and will never stop loving them.
Try these ideas to help your kids discover their place in each story:
Play by Play
As you’re telling the story, pause to make sure kids are tracking with you. Briefly summarize the passage and ask questions like these:
- What do you think will happen next?
- Why would he/she do that?
- What is God doing here?
- Has something like this ever happened to you?
Then jump back into the action!
Something to Say
Kids always bring their experiences and imagination into stories. All we have to do is get them started! These are a few of my favorite question starters:
- Have you ever felt ...
- I wonder why God ...
- What would you be thinking if you were ...
- When have you seen God do something like ...
- What surprised you about ...
- What do you think is important about ...
Leaders and Learners
Kids aren’t the only ones who need an assurance of God’s presence and love! Every day we face new lists, bills, chores, and challenges. So, which Bible stories comfort you when you face fear and find yourself worrying? When you feel inadequate, do you think of God’s words to Moses, “I will be with you”? Can you see yourself in his endless excuses? Do you hope that maybe God will send you an Aaron, too? (I do!) We pass on both faith and fear to the kids in our lives. So when we find ourselves swimming in stress we need to soak up the stories of God’s faithfulness. And when we can’t see the path forward, we can look to the God of the Israelites — who parted the sea and led his people across dry land!
How do you help kids discover that God is always with them, even in scary times?