All the Very Best Stories Lead Us to Hope in the Darkness
God Knows Our Needs
Although I’d seen worry lines crease his brow hundreds of times, the anguish in my little boy’s eyes startled me. “Mom, you’re not going to get COVID, are you?” he asked.
I forced a smile and hoped his gaze couldn’t penetrate my thoughts. The night before, I’d watched a daughter say goodbye to her dying mother over a video call. I’d cared for twenty patients dying from COVID because they were frontline workers, or because they couldn’t self-isolate in their multigenerational homes. However ardently I wanted to reassure my son, I didn’t know if I would get COVID. I didn’t know if my patients languishing on ventilators would recover, and I couldn’t understand how God was working through the whole, scary mess.
I forced a smile, then flopped on the couch beside him and drew him close. “The hospital is keeping me very safe, buddy,” I said. “And most importantly, God knows what we need.” At that moment my daughter skipped into the room with a bag of goldfish crackers in hand, and I seized the opportunity to put away frightful things for a brief time. In half an hour I’d leave for another overnight shift in the ICU. We had thirty beautiful minutes to dive into a story and grasp for something good, true, and lovely.
The Dragon and the Stone
Kathryn Butler, MD
When 12-year-old Lily McKinley finds her deceased father’s stone pendant, she is transported to a new dimension where she must battle evil nightmares with the help of a dragon named Cedric to save the dream keepers and rescue the Realm.
We snuggled on the sofa and continued our reading of The Return of the King from the Lord of the Rings trilogy. The kids leaned forward in suspense, my daughter pausing mid-crunch to listen as the Rohirrim rushed to aid Gondor. The riders cowered at the sight of the city of Minas Tirith wreathed in flame, the foul legions of Mordor teeming around the walls as they pressed their assault. Hordes of vile beasts glutted the vast plains of Gondor and had laid them to waste. All seemed hopeless.
Then, the king of the Rohirrim burst forth to lead the charge:
[Theoden’s] golden shield was uncovered, and lo! It shone like an image of the Sun, and the grass flamed into green about the white feet of his steed. For morning came, morning and a wind from the sea; and darkness was removed, and the hosts of Mordor wailed, and terror took them, and they fled, and died, and the hoofs of wrath rode over them.1
I paused as my throat tightened and my eyes misted with tears. My son, his eyes still shimmering with concern, asked if I was okay.
“I’m fine. This just reminds me of Jesus making all things new.” I held both my dear ones in a squeeze about their shoulders. “No matter what happens, we know that good will overcome, because Jesus has already won. The morning will come.”
For a moment, a smile graced my little boy’s face.
Morning Will Come
When trials challenge our families, our first priority is to point our kids to Scripture. God’s word is living and active (Heb. 4:12), profitable for teaching (2 Tim. 3:16), and offers a lamp to our feet and a light to our path (Ps. 119:105) that shines through the darkest of times. When my son’s worries about COVID stirred him to wakefulness and prompted questions about God, we studied Job and Joseph, and read the Gospels over and over. Gradually, little by little, the storm clouds cleared from my little boy’s heart.
Yet the lessons in gospel hope didn’t end when we closed our Bibles. After we finished our daily devotions, my kids and I carried our knowledge of God with us as we journeyed through Narnia and Middle Earth, Skree,2 and Natalia3. Coupled with our assurance of God’s faithfulness as revealed in Scripture, our adventures through such stories offered vibrant moments to keep the clouds at bay and the skies brilliantly bright. Stories, it seems, can remind our kids that in Christ, morning will always come, no matter how deep the darkness.
A Patch of Warmth and Light
Ample research4 reveals the benefits of reading aloud to our children, with studies showing that just twenty minutes daily can have long-lasting effects on literacy, social and emotional skills, and cognitive development.5 On a more intimate level, we can all identify the bonds we forge with our kids over books as they plead for one more chapter, or as they snuggle closer when the protagonist plunges into danger. As novelist Kate DiCamillo so poignantly states, “We let our guard down when someone we love is reading us a story. We exist together in a little patch of warmth and light.”6
Vibrant stories can steel your kids against the gloom, and remind them of the dawn just ahead.
For Christian parents, that warmth and light shimmers with opportunities to reinforce gospel hope with our kids. The benefits of book time extend beyond cognitive riches and carry even weightier import for those seeking to know Christ. The very best stories—those that linger in the imagination long after we’ve passed “The End”—can enhance our kids’ understanding of biblical truths and help the words we teach them during devotions sink deeper and take root in their minds and hearts.
Perhaps you’ve already glimpsed such treasures during your read-aloud times. Maybe Aslan’s resurrection left your kids breathless, or maybe Eustace’s fruitless efforts to rid himself of dragon skin pitched them into silence. Perhaps you witnessed Tolkien give shape and contour to the concept of sin as your kids considered Gollum, whom the Ring of Power corrupts even as he pines for it. Characters of The Wingfeather Saga span generations, and all offer stunning examples of sacrificial love. Anne in Anne of Green Gables soaks in the beauty of creation—the “Lake of Shining Waters”—and cannot help but praise God. On and on, threads of redemption and hope weave through cherished childhood stories like glittering threads, and offer sweet moments that point our kids back to the one whose story outshines them all.
The True Story
J. R. R. Tolkien believed that the very best stories so delight us because they echo the gospel. In his essay On Fairy Stories, he wrote the following: “The peculiar quality of ‘joy’ in successful Fantasy can thus be explained as a sudden glimpse of the underlying reality or truth. . . . It may be a far-off gleam or echo of evangelium in the real world.”7 In other words, good stories thrill us because they reflect the true Story—the Christian Story—and point us to the ultimate happy ending: life in Christ.
We can’t predict how trials and travails of life will crack the foundations of our homes and impact our children. Scripture and prayer are life-giving in such moments, as vital as air. And when carefully selected, vibrant stories can steel your kids against the gloom and remind them of the dawn just ahead.
The next time you curl up next to your kids with a book, look for the redemptive arcs that point to Christ. Look for echoes of the greatest story of all: the King come to earth, the evil undone, the world made new. When you glean gospel moments from your read-aloud time, you’ll offer your kids riches that far outlast any literacy or academic benefit. You’ll encourage them that, Yes, dear one, morning will come.
Morning will come, and a wind from the sea. And darkness will be removed, because he has done it. (Ps. 22:31)
- J. R. R. Tolkien, The Return of the King, (New York, Houghton Mifflin, 2001), 820.
- Andrew Peterson, The Wingfeather Saga.
- S. D. Smith, The Green Ember Series.
- Council on Early Childhood, Literacy promotion: an essential component of primary care pediatric practice, August, 2014, https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24962987/#:~:text=Literacy%20promotion%3A%20an%20essential%20component%20of%20primary%20care,literacy%2C%20and%20social-emotional%20skills%20that%20last%20a%20lifetime.
- John S. Hutton, Home Reading Environment and Brain Activation in Preschool Children Listening to Stories, September 1, 2015, https://publications.aap.org/pediatrics/article-abstract/136/3/466/61420/Home-Reading-Environment-and-Brain-Activation-in?redirectedFrom=PDF
- Meghan Cox Gurdon, The Enchanted Hour: The Miraculous Power of Reading Aloud in the Age of Distraction, (New York, Harper Collins, 2019), xiii.
- J. R. R. Tolkien, On Fairy Stories, (New York, Harper Collins, 2014), 77-78.
Kathryn Butler, MD is the author of The Dragon and the Stone.
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