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A copy of the book "Deborah and Jael' on a shelf

How Do You Teach ‘difficult’ Bible Stories to Children? Guest Post by Lucy Rycroft

“She put WHAT through his forehead?!”

“The FAT closed over the SWORD??!!

The Bible is full of colourful stories. Some of them seem to have ended up in a sort of ‘children’s canon’, a repertoire we are happy to teach to our kids, stories which publishers are eager to bring to life again and again and again.

But some of them have not.

I wonder who decided which stories made acceptable reading for children? And who decided that certain stories should Absolutely Never Ever Be Told?

I’m sure that part of the answer is blood and guts. 

Stories like Jael putting a tent peg through Sisera’s forehead, or Ehud plunging a sword into the belly of Fat King Eglon (that’s how the Bible describes him, anyway) are likely to induce nightmares in sensitive children.

But I think there’s another reason. Many of the most interesting and lesser-known stories in the Bible raise questions which are difficult for adults to comprehend, let alone children.

  • Why does God kill Uzzah, simply for steadying the ark of the covenant on its journey back to Jerusalem? Is He a cruel and vengeful God?
  • Why does God command Joshua and his army to kill, destroy and plunder those who are living in the land God has set aside for the Israelites? Does God have favourites?
  • Why is the servant who hides his one talent thrown ‘into the darkness’ with ‘weeping and gnashing of teeth’? Does God value risky investment over safe stewardship?
  • Why does Jesus send demons into the pigs, which cause them to fall into water and drown? Does God not care for the animals He has created?

Let’s be honest – when do busy parents have time to wrestle with these questions for themselves, let alone with their children? As an exhausted, time-starved mum of four, I can tell you it’s not an appealing prospect.

And yet I wonder whether we’re missing a trick with sticking to the ‘safe’ stories? I wonder whether our children need to hear a fuller story of God’s movements through history, in order to grow in their love for, and relationship with, Him?

With that in mind, here are some thoughts about how we can approach the teaching of difficult Bible stories:

  1. Get to know them yourself

It’s slowly dawned on me that most Bible reading notes or devotional books focus on the New Testament, or well-known passages of the Old Testament like Psalms and Isaiah. Fair enough – these are more easily applied to our lives.

But if we never expose ourselves to the difficult historical books of Samuel, Kings and Chronicles, we’re not going to be able to share these stories with our children. So: read some different parts of the Bible. Learn a new story or two. Share with your kids what you’ve been reading.

  1. Seek out books which tell these stories

Of course, when family busyness and parent fatigue kick in (like, when do they not kick in?), it’s helpful just to have a few ‘go-to’ Bible story books which can do the heavy lifting for us.

So deliberately look for children’s books which tell the hard, or lesser known, stories! My book, Deborah and Jael, is a retelling of this heroic and exciting story from Judges, written in rhyme with beautiful illustrations. It’s not the only book you could get to redress the balance, but it’s a start.

  1. Go with your kids’ interests and personalities

Sometimes we assume that children are super-sensitive. But children are just like adults – they have varying trigger levels when it comes to graphic scenes.

I was persuaded, when writing Deborah and Jael, to gloss over the tent-peg scene, and I think this was a good call. After all, I don’t want any child to be excluded from enjoying this story, and parents can decide whether or not to share more detail. But my kids love a bit of gruesome; their eyes light up whenever we share with them a particularly yucky bit of Scripture!

  1. Edits are OK

Likewise, it is fine to edit out the more extreme details of a difficult Bible story if you know it will upset your child. It’s better than not telling a story at all!

Remember, your children probably have plenty of years ahead of them to revisit Bible stories, going deeper each time. They don’t need to know all the details now. Focus on the main facts of the story, gloss over any details which they might find traumatic, and share instead what we learn about God from the passage in question.

  1. It’s OK not to have the ‘answer’

As parents, we get used to answering every question, from “Why is grass green?” to “Do starfish have eyes?”. We’re expected to just know the answers. When I tell my kids I can’t explain why the tide goes in and out because I was never very good at science or geography, and my degree was in music, they look at me like I’ve been washed up in said tide. Thank goodness for Auntie Google.

But when it comes to sharing the Bible with our kids, it’s perfectly OK not to know the answer to a difficult question. We can turn it around by saying, “What do you think?” or “Maybe we should think about this over the next few days” or “Shall we chat to God about that and see if He helps us to understand?”

It’s healthy for our children to know, even from a young age, that some questions are big and don’t have easy answers. And that we, their grown-ups, are on a journey of faith too.

***

Teaching difficult Bible stories to children is not going to be easy – the clue is in the word ‘difficult’! But it’s also not something to be afraid of. 

As we explore the full richness of Scripture for ourselves – yes, even if that’s in a snatched 5 minutes, once a month – we can know God’s favour as we share these stories naturally with the next generation.

“Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.” Deuteronomy 6:7

Lucy blogs at The Hope-Filled Family and is the author of Redeeming Advent and Deborah and Jael. She lives in York with her husband and four children.

This is the Time to Grieve Our Losses

As a christian writer, the temptation when disaster hits, is to get to the illustration.

I want to be able to write not only “hard and clear about what hurts” as Hemingway so powerfully suggests, but I also want to write about the redemption of that hurt. I want to be able to write the beginning, the middle and the end – making sure that the end has a message, that it shows that the pain endured had some meaning. Ideally, I’d like to be summed up neatly with three points (with a bonus for including alliteration!)

However, as the coronavirus has raged through the world, leaving lives and livelihoods destroyed, we cannot rush the redemption.

There are wounds to be tended, losses to grieve and rubble to be sorted through before we get to that point.

Everyone, to a greater or lesser extent is living with loss in these strange days. But our grief is not just for ourselves: but for those losing loved ones without the chance for goodbyes, those enduring illnesses alone, those shielded but separated from the world.

We are writing from the middle of the story; we don’t know when it will end or what that ending will look like – all we have is the hope that “this too shall pass”.

And in this hinterland, we are living in a Holy Saturday, not knowing when Easter will dawn, but living with the realities of darkness.

The challenge for today, is described beautifully by Beth Allen Slevecove in her book Broken Hallelujahs.

“How can I honour the reality of brokenness without losing the memory and hope of wholeness?”

Honouring brokenness is important, but done without holding the memory of God’s redemption and the hope of seeing wholeness leaves us languishing in grief without a way forward.

It is when we honour our brokenness alongside holding our hope in Jesus, that we are able to enter into lament.


And this is the time.

This is the time for grieving

For raging against the dying of the light 

This is the time for tears

Which cleanse our souls and bring release

This is the time for anger

At the injustice pulled into sharp focus

This is the time for honesty

An end to false smiles and ‘I’m fine’

This is the time for reorientation 

For hearts fixed high

And knees bent low

This is the time for lamenting

For the thousand little losses

And the hearts broken open

This is the time

Not to rush redemption

 

Sacrifice in a Strange New Land – Guest Post by Karen Costa

We all may consider that we know what it is to sacrifice something of worth. Those of us with children and vulnerable family members make sacrifices each day, including sacrificing sleep and giving up time to ourselves to meet their care needs. During Lent we may decide to sacrifice our love of chocolate or crisps, or commit ourselves to a new activity that we feel will improve our minds. Young people in education sacrifice their usual social activities to study hard for the exams that will lead them into adult life and the career of which they dream. Many people sacrifice significant portions of their own earnings to support charities or members of their wider family living far away or in impoverished circumstances. 

But perhaps we are not as used to sacrifice as we like to think. The concept of sacrifice in today’s world of instant gratification, with many of us fortunate enough to have easy access to basic needs such as food and drink, as well as material possessions, gym memberships and regular holidays abroad, is not something we truly think about on a daily basis. 

In these troubling and uncertain times we are being asked to sacrifice in a way most of us have never had to contemplate. Forgoing the pleasures of eating out and spending time with friends. Isolating ourselves from others to protect them and ourselves from potential infection. And hardest of all, keeping away from beloved family members and friends who are most vulnerable to the silent enemy we are facing in Covid-19. 

As Christians we are familiar with the greatest sacrifice of all – Jesus taking our sins on His holy shoulders to death, then rising again to give us the opportunity of a life free from the burden of our own failings and the promise of eternal life with Him.

There are many other examples of sacrifice in the Bible; one of my favourites is the story of Ruth. This wonderful young woman had sacrificed much in her young life. She married into Naomi’s family sacrificing the life she lived with her own. She moved to another country with Naomi after her father-in-law died, only to lose her own husband in that strange new land. And when Naomi decided to return to her home country and offered to release Ruth from any obligation to go with her, Ruth sacrificed that opportunity and chose to remain with her mother-in-law. She travelled with her back to a land where she may not have been welcomed, to a life of uncertainty and little prospect of another marriage to secure her future, because she loved Naomi. And because she loved Naomi’s God.

Can we be more like Ruth in these unprecedented times? Not just by adhering to the government recommendations that are limiting our usual activities, but by going that little bit farther. Maybe we could we give away some of our hoard of toilet rolls and hand soap and pasta to those in greater need than us? Or perhaps we could drop a note in to a neighbour and offer to get some shopping for them? Or simply spend some time chatting on the phone to someone who is self-isolating?

Who knows what lessons we will learn from this unwanted experience?

Whatever we do, and however we are affected, we can only be enriched from remaining in contact with each other by whatever alternative means we can, being creative in protecting our mental and physical health and most especially, by keeping hold of the one who sacrificed His all for us – and who will continue to journey with us through this strange new land we find ourselves in.

 

Karen works in HR, currently with the NHS and has been involved in variety of roles within church. She also happens to be Rachael’s Mum!

Baby Change, by Anne Calver – Review

Usually these days I find myself reading books in fits and starts, frequently having to re-read the pages as I’m snatching moments when my own baby (well – racing toddler is more apt) is asleep.

As it happens however, I read this in just over a day as I was stuck in bed unwell and unable to do much else but read.

Anne eloquently echoed many of my own feelings about motherhood, especially the tensions between calling and working out what that looks like as a stay at home mum.

I found the stories of other mums really helped to shape the book – proving once again that there is no “right” way to do things – that motherhood looks as different as we all do! The only criticism I would possibly level is that there was little recognition, or inclusion of a story from a Mum who’s doing it alone, whether through family breakdown, being widowed or solo adoption – but perhaps that’s another book.

The interweaving of Anne’s own experience with her biblical reflections produced some really valuable wisdom. I loved her thoughts on 2 Corinthians 4:7-9 which reads:

“But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.”

Anne writes:

“Baby Change does not equal persecution, but it can make you feel perplexed, out of your depth, weak, crushed and alone…Our feelings do not limit [God’s] power.”

This served as a potent reminder for all of us, whether parents or not that God reigns, that as tough as things are (and they are feeling pretty tough this year, aren’t they?) God is stronger than anything and everything we face (although we should continue to do our part).

I’d really recommend this book for Mums in their first few years of parenting – I’ve got a 15 month old and found it a valuable read.

You can buy it anywhere that sells books including Eden and Amazon* and SPCK currently have 50% off all ebooks on their site until 25th March.

 

*Affiliate link

 

 

 

At Least

There are many ‘at least(s)’ flying around.
‘At least you don’t live alone’
‘At least you don’t have a pre-existing condition’
‘At least you still get paid’

Of course, all these may be true. Some of us are more privileged than others, that can be recognised without minimising struggle.

Because whether you’re self-isolating, social distancing, have a pre-existing condition, are trying to navigate wedding planning or wondering how to get a refund for the trip you’ve saved for that you don’t get to go on – it’s okay to feel disappointed, to feel sad over what might have been.

Gratitude can’t be forced onto someone – it’s an attitude of the heart orientated to the giver and sustainer of life.

Perhaps when we allow ourselves to feel the disappointment, we can move to a place of gratitude.

This too shall pass, and as the snowdrops break through the seemingly barren winter ground, let us allow God to work in us through this season, trusting that life, hope, hope and creativity will emerge.

Words for Worrying Times

In the uncertainty and fear,
The panic and the path ahead unclear.

Breathe in for seven,
Breathe out for eleven.

It’s okay to be unsure and frightened.

And yet.

Philippians 4.6 used to be my least favourite verse, it felt patronising, heaped shame upon pain.

But then I learned that anxiety isn’t a sin, it’s a way to keep us safe. This verse isn’t telling our bodies not the respond to danger, but telling our minds to rest in the midst of the panic. The JB Philips translation puts it like this:

“Don’t worry over anything whatever; tell God every detail of your needs in earnest and thankful prayer, and the peace of God which transcends human understanding, will keep constant guard over your hearts and minds as they rest in Christ Jesus.”

It’s not a call to shame, but a reminder that all our fear and pain can be brought to Christ. Christ whose sweat was tinged with blood (an anxiety reaction), Christ who endured the worst so we may have hope. Our situations may not change – but let us breathe in the peace of God, the assurance of His mercy and care.

God’s peace is not incompatible with common sense – it’s at the heart of it.

Trust in the Lord and follow public health advice.

Take necessary precautions for yourself, the vulnerable and those you love.

Allow the unfailing peace of God to hold you and your fear. Let your worries turn to prayers and know that they are heard.

Ash Wednesday Reflections: Rend Your Heart

It’s one of those phrases that I’ve heard countless times – usually around this time of year – “rend your heart”.

But what does that really mean to rend your heart?

The word rend literally means to “tear something into pieces”, to “separate into parts with violence”. This is not gently pulling away from something – it’s not me peeling myself away from my sleeping son to rest him in his cot – it’s pushing something as far away from myself as possible, making sure every connection is broken.

Joel 2 is a call for God’s people to return to Him in repentance – not to just make a show of repentance for the eyes of the world by tearing their clothes – but to realise the gravity of their sin in a way which breaks their hearts wide open – allowing God to fill the broken places.

Returning to God is not about coming to Him cowed by shame – it’s returning to the God who is grace, compassion and love.

As we are marked with the ashes today, we are reminded of our sin. The reality of our broken world, our broken relationships, our broken hearts.

We are also reminded to look forward however, to what God does with broken things and broken people.

This is not a season to be rushed – we must wait awhile in the dust, recognising the pain we cause, the pain we are in – but it’s never a hopeless pain.

Lent is a season of lament – and hope is found, as ever – not in the things we can do to fix ourselves or the world around us – but in our God who fills our broken places with Himself.

The rending can be painful, but the glory comes in what God does in those broken places.  The Japanese call is kintsugi – where broken spaces are filled with gold and made all the more beautiful in those broken places.

For now, though, we wait for the filling and sit among the broken pieces waiting for God to show His glory.

I love this blessing from Jan Richardson from her book “Circle of Grace”*, take a moment today to pray and reflect.

Rend Your Heart

A Blessing for Ash Wednesday

To receive this blessing,
all you have to do
is let your heart break.
Let it crack open.
Let it fall apart
so that you can see
its secret chambers,
the hidden spaces
where you have hesitated
to go.

Your entire life
is here, inscribed whole
upon your heart’s walls:
every path taken
or left behind,
every face you turned toward
or turned away,
every word spoken in love
or in rage,
every line of your life
you would prefer to leave
in shadow,
every story that shimmers
with treasures known
and those you have yet
to find.

It could take you days
to wander these rooms.
Forty, at least.

And so let this be
a season for wandering,
for trusting the breaking,
for tracing the rupture
that will return you

to the One who waits,
who watches,
who works within
the rending
to make your heart
whole.

—Jan Richardson

 

*affiliate link

Cold Cups of Tea and Hiding in the Loo – An Honest Conversation About Motherhood

Before you become a Mum, you’re told lots of things:

“Don’t rock the baby to sleep – it’s a rod for your own back”

“Never let your baby use a dummy”

“Breastfeeding is the most natural thing ever – it’s a breeze!”

“You’ll never sleep again”

But no matter how much advice (helpful or otherwise), no matter how many books you read or how many children you’re around, you can’t really prepare yourself for it. (That’s another thing you hear, isn’t it!?)

One of the best pieces of advice I was given, was to be honest about the reality of motherhood – the dizzying highs and the desperate lows and it’s advice echoed in Annie’s book. She writes:

“When we choose vulnerability, connection can happen i the messiness of everyday life.”

So, inspired by this and taking my own advice, here are my honest confessions about motherhood, a year in.

  1. Personally I’m finding parenting a toddler harder than having a newborn. (This one depends completely on your child – some breeze through babyhood, others are beset with colic and constipation – my son was what some might call an “easy baby”, but the same cannot be said for toddlerdom.)
  2. There have been times when I’ve missed my old life, particularly the freedom I had to work when I wanted and take every opportunity going.
  3. Making sure I take a book wherever I go is great for those car naps I don’t want to waste!
  4. I fall too easily into the trap of the “who’s more tired game?”
  5. Teething is a sure sign of the Fall and I’ve sometimes counted the minutes until I can administer the next dose of Calpol.
  6. Sometimes I regret making my son give up his dummy at six months old.
  7. On difficult days, nap times are my favourite time of the day.
  8. I quite enjoy daytime TV as company as a backdrop to pottering and parenting.
  9. I love going to work.
  10. Being a Mum is the most ridiculous, difficult, hope-filled, despair-making, contradictory, frustrating, heart breaking and joyful thing I’ve ever done.

“Cold Cups of Tea and Hiding in the Loo” is available to buy now from Amazon* and christian book shops. *Affiliate link Head over to my Instagram and Facebook to get the chance to win a free copy!

I also heartily encourage you to head over to Annie’s blog Honest Conversation – it’s great.

Advent Reflections – Journeying

Throughout the Bible, God’s people are on the move, and God seems to do much of His work in people through their journeys.

Abraham’s journey to Canaan.

The Israelites protracted journey to the Promised Land.

Mary and Joseph’s journey to Bethlehem in the months before Jesus’ birth.

We can but imagine the maelstrom of emotions evoked during this journey; the uncertainty, the more than likely physical aches and pains of Mary, the anticipation, the worry perhaps – about having your first baby far from home?

I can remember, all too clearly, the relatively short journey to the nice clean and safe hospital to have my own son just a year ago, knowing my life would never be the same again, stepping into the unknown and trusting that my feet found some solid ground.

There’s something about journeys that disrupt us, perhaps it’s that they signal change (something I’m not a great fan of), and throughout history, God disrupts His people. He sends them to new places, on new adventures and asks us to take each step away from certainty and toward Him. Perhaps the reason He speaks so loudly to us on journeys is because we are already distracted from day to day life.

I remember studying Abram’s call during some of my first lectures at LST – how he had been called away from everything he’d known to enter a promise unseen – and I felt stirred by it, a similarity, even though my journey was only 30 miles down the motorway and nowhere near as drastic as Abram’s life-changing journey! But I had left behind the life I had known and stepping into something new where each step was one of faith.

It’s that journey that I remind myself of now, when I’m fearful of the next steps, or the next journey; because at the time it was the scariest thing I’d ever done and yet it was one of great joy.

We each go on countless journeys throughout our lives; some are inconsequential (such as the one my husband has gone on to get bin bags from co-op as I write), others are earth shattering and life changing, like the journey to Bethlehem or my own through university.

One of my favourite journeys recounted in scripture is one Jesus takes the morning of His resurrection, when he takes a walk with a man named Cleopas and his friend who are lamenting the loss of the one ‘they had hoped’ for and hoped in. It’s a sliver of a story which reminds us that the journey matters – that through Jesus – God walks with us on our journeys and reveals Himself in the tenderest of places, in the tenderest of ways. For it was not through lighting flash and growling thunder that Jesus revealed His identity on the journey, it was not even as he recounted His own story through the scriptures, but as He ate with them and broke their bread with His own scarred hands.

Advent retells Jesus’ journey to be with us, one not done in majestic fashion, but one that began in the womb of a teenager and ended on a sinner’s cross.

They journey of Advent is nearing its close for this year; soon the darkness of these weeks will be pierced by the unquenchable light of the God who came wrapped in a mother’s womb to save in the most unexpected of ways. Jesus’ journey to be with us is the greatest comfort in the darkness and ignited the flame of hope forevermore – it is what keeps me walking this strange journey of surrender and freedom.

Malcolm Guite’s beautiful poem O Emmanuel captures something of the mystery of Jesus’ journey to us as our hope.

“Be folded with us into time and place,

Unfold for us the mystery of grace

And make a womb of all this wounded world.”