Approaching the Bible with Childlike Joy
As most of you know, I grew up in Atlanta where you don’t see much snow. We hardly ever got a day off from school due to snow. And when we did get snow, there was no reliable equipment to deal with it. Snow was a big headache. Our biggest concern with winter weather was ice, which can be dangerous. I have few good childhood memories of snow.
Because of my snowless childhood, I continue to think of snow as more of a nuisance and a hindrance than anything associated with fun. When our children were little, it was Kevin who went outside to play with them. Kevin grew up in the north, so he has childhood memories of joyful times in the snow. When he wasn’t home, I’d send the kids outside on their own and watch through the window from the warmth of our family room.
Of course, I filled a crucial role inside the house: I helped the kids get all bundled up in their snowsuits, thick socks, boots, mittens, hats, and scarves only to discover, just as I was opening the door to let them out, they needed to go the bathroom! But that’s okay, after they went to the bathroom, I re-assembled them and, once they were outside playing in the snow, I relished the peace and quiet inside. I fixed hot cocoa, stoked the fire, and prepared myself to meet them at the door when they were ready to come back inside, covered in snow from head to foot, noses cold and red. I helped them take off their winter clothing, the reverse of what we did a half an hour earlier, and hung everything up to dry.
While they were outside, I loved watching them play in the snow, laughing and falling, building snowmen and snow forts, having snowball fights. A part of me yearned to be out there with them. But it was too much trouble to put on my own multi-layered clothing. All I could think about was how restrictive it makes me feel being all bundled up like that; I much prefer the comfort of shorts and tank tops. Although the cold air feels refreshing on my face when I first step outside, I prefer the feel of warm sun on my bare arms.
But then something changed. We got a dog. This dog, Holly, has a lot of energy and needs to be walked, regardless of the weather, regardless of 6” of snow on the ground. It isn’t enough to watch her in the backyard from my window on a snowy day. I have to get out and do something with her.
I love to take Holly where she can run off leash. And so, in the winter time, I find myself all bundled up heading out with her to wooded trails and open fields where we end up trekking through deep snow together. I often fall and I laugh; she wags her tail and licks my face while I struggle to stand up. I have a ball; it’s so much fun! Now I look forward to getting back out in the snow with her. Even when I’m dealing with the headaches of snow, I tap into the joy of having fun with Holly, that part of my being that has stored the joy of being in snow, like a child!
Recalling my experience in the snow with Holly, I am reminded of a passage from the Gospel of Matthew:
At that time, the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” He called a child whom he put among them, and said, “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever becomes humble like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.” (18:1-5).
Like my experience with Holly in the snow, I enjoy discovering what God has to say to me through the Bible, as though through the eyes of a child. It’s what I like most about the work I do for our children at Peace: reading and studying the Bible each week and sharing what I learn with them through the children’s message on Sunday mornings.
As adults in the church, each of us bears responsibility for telling God’s word to our children. Indeed, the congregation makes that promise to each infant baptized.
The Bible is not a book of rules or a set of moral precepts that we somehow absorb and then order our lives by. Rather, the Bible can be a source of insight and wisdom and fun, especially when we approach God’s word with a kind of childlike openness.
In addition to songs, parables, and lessons, the Bible is full of stories, from heroic sagas, to knee-slapping humor, to romance and mystery. It’s the stories in the Bible that appeal to children the most. I imagine it’s the stories in the Bible that appeal to adults the most, as well. By hearing these stories told over and over again and in different variations, we hear new things in those words, God’s words.
The stories in the Bible help to shape us into Christian people and form us into Christian communities. One reason we tell stories to children in church is to help them know who they are as members of our community. Our children have a right to hear these stories and be nurtured into our church family. By hearing Bible stories in church and at home, our children will learn and share the stories, too.
Think of Christian worship as you do a family meal where we talk together, eat together, and sometimes say prayers together. We also tell family stories. The value in telling Bible stories at church is that they, too, are our family stories. It is through story telling that children learn how they fit into the lives of the people around them.
By reading Bible stories in worship and at home, an intimacy between the storyteller and the listener forms, reminding us and our children that the stories are important. They are our stories of faith that have been shared and passed on to every generation, binding us together in community and affirming that we are all children of God.
During our children’s faith development, hearing the stories of faith, learning them, and then being able to retell them is an integral component to children coming to believe, to have faith in a God who loves and cares for them. As the stories of faith are told and retold, read and reread, thought about, questioned, reasoned about, looked at in terms of deeper meanings, their understanding of what it is to be a person of Christian faith is enriched. These stories and the rituals of our Christian faith help move children to believing in God. It is in the hearing of the stories of faith that our children learn the name of God our creator; the gift of God’s son, our savior; and the ongoing power of the Holy Spirit within their lives.
In addition to hearing the Bible stories in church, our children need to hear these stories at home. According to a commentator in our Lutheran Study Bible, “Many Lutherans do not approach the Bible nearly enough. This is very un-Lutheran. Martin Luther translated the entire Bible, Old and New Testaments, into the language of the common people so that every family in Germany would be able to read the Scriptures in their homes. He was one of the first people to do this. It was a lot of work, and he did it because he wanted people to read their Bibles in their homes.”
Whether you have children at home, or grandchildren who visit, make the Bible a regular part of your home. Let your children see you reading the Bible. Keep multiple copies of children’s Bibles lying around your house so they can be freely picked up and enjoyed at any time, by you and your children. Listen to the same story over and over again in a slightly different way.
Make it so that the Bible becomes familiar to your children from the time of their childhood so that it won’t seem so strange and bewildering when they are adults. My hope for all the children of our congregation is that they will have fond memories of childhood experiences with the text and the word of God; that they will have fun and find joy in discovering what God’s word means to them. If our children have this kind of childhood experience with the Bible, then they are more likely to have lasting, positive memories on which to grow and expand their faith long into adulthood.
No matter what your age, it’s not too late to have fun with the Bible, to find joy in your experience with the word of God, and hear it anew from a childlike perspective. Maybe even pick up a children’s story bible and open your heart to what God has to say through the words as you see them written there. Share one of the stories with a child and see what happens. Don’t be self conscious about it or worry that you won’t have all the answers to someone’s questions; rather, “become humble,” as Jesus says in Matthew.
Recalling today’s Gospel reading (Luke 4:21-30), I see myself among the people of Nazareth. But instead of being all in a rage about what Jesus is saying to them, I was all in a rage about having to face one long snowy winter after another. I often felt like having a temper tantrum about the snow getting in my way, keeping me from doing the things I wanted to do. However, with Holly by my side, I began to see what God had been trying to show me all along: from a child-like perspective, I discovered joy in the snowy landscape around me, much like the joy I derive from sharing stories of the Bible with our children. Amen.
Peace Lutheran Church
January 31, 2016