Like many families, bedtime stories have been an essential part of our life since the time our kids were tiny. Reading together at the end of the day is a chance to leave behind our busy lives for just a few minutes and be swept into another place and time. Good stories allow us to enter into a different world where all things are possible: heroes persevere despite trials and tribulations, unlikely friendships develop and thrive, and ordinary people end up changing the course of history for the better. The stories we read tend to stay in our heads throughout the day and find their way into our children’s imagination and play.
Of course, the stories we choose to share with our children are not the only ones that we imbibe. We are exposed to stories continually throughout our daily lives: stories that tell us that life is about being comfortable and satiated, stories that tell us passion is more important than faithfulness, stories that tell us we need more to be happy. These and other stories have become such an assumed part of our world that we almost absorb them without realizing it. For this reason I’m more and more convinced that the deliberate reading and taking in of good stories is an essential tool in shaping our children. Good stories give us glimpses of what it means to be truly human. They remind us that actions have consequences for good or evil. They challenge our stereotypes and assumptions. They explore what it means to live out of something larger than just satisfying our own immediate needs and wants. In short, good stories get beneath the clutter of the false or distorted stories that build up in our everyday lives and that erode our ability to remember those things that really matter. Good stories help us connect the dots back to our true, central story.
Ultimately, all of the stories we take in must come under the central story that we have been brought into as Christians. Every week, before we partake of the bread and wine, we hear again of God’s goodness made known to us primarily in Jesus’ life, death and resurrection. This is the story that we have been brought into, that shapes us, that challenges our thinking, the story by which we see. As we encounter other stories along the way we allow this story to be the judge, the grid through which we determine what rings true and what doesn’t. Of course we can’t and shouldn’t avoid all stories that aren’t in keeping with our central story. But allowing the gospel week by week to guide and shape our thinking gives us the ability to be purposeful in our decisions as to which stories we allow to take root both in our lives and in the lives of our children. We can then be intentional about seeking out the stories that strengthen and reinforce us as we seek to live out of our central story more fully.