The power of story to communicate truth (godly parenting)

The Power of Story

A tricky situation

Some years ago, one of my daughters was a bit sweet on a boy who lived in our local neighbourhood. At first, I thought she was just going out to play with his sisters, but then I could see that she was openly flirting with the lad even though she was only about eight years old at the time.

Whenever she saw him, she would go outside and hang around. But it wasn’t until a chance observation that I realised this boy was treating my daughter appallingly. In addition to his nasty behaviour toward her, he was using her affection to get her to do whatever he wanted. I tried talking to her about the issue, but she just couldn’t see it.

Why lectures don’t work

In the West we pride ourselves on Greek logic and rational thinking. Christians in particular are caught up in this and so we teach truth via clear explanations and facts.

But it doesn’t work.

Be honest. How many sermons can you remember? How many lectures from your parents can you remember? In fact, how many of your university lectures can you remember?

If you do remember anything then I can pretty much guarantee it is because you remember a story or illustration or you remember how you felt.

You see information is great for the mind but it doesn’t engage the soul.

Facts are dry and don’t engage the heart whereas stories draw you in and teach concepts in a much deeper way than ever “objective” facts could hope to do. This is the Hebrew way of life – sharing their collective redemption story with their children.

For example, telling their children the story of Israel’s redemption through the Passover meal (Ex 12:24-27) or telling their children the story behind the memorial stones placed by the river Jordan (Josh 4:2-7).  Indeed much of the Bible is written as narrative/story of God’s interaction with people and then Jesus primarily taught truth through parables.

Stories, unlike facts, draw us in and invite our participation whether they’re true or fictional.

A great example of this is the story of the Prodigal Son (Lk 10:25-37). What more needs to be added to the narrative that would help us understand the Father’s love? It perfectly carries the message as is.

You see parables aren’t merely illustrations for the message – they are the message.

It is imperative that we let the story do its job and don’t reduce it to a moral.

Those who tell the best stories will have the most power.  Many criticised C S Lewis for “wasting time” writing the Narnia books.  But history tells us the power these stories have had in shaping and inspiring people.

This is why Hollywood holds so much power – they are telling stories which influence people far more than a church that simply shouts truth.  This is also why “Christian movies” have often been weak: they are so concerned about getting the message across clearly that they neglect the story.

How a story set my daughter free

Facts and warnings weren’t reaching my daughter and so I needed something else that would communicate the danger of giving her affection to someone who was mistreating her.

So I made up a story called “The Princess and the Crocodile” where a princess who loves animals wants a crocodile but her father refuses saying it won’t be a good pet because it won’t love her back.  So she decides to go to the river and…well, let’s just she gets in a sticky situation…

This opened her eyes to the reality of her situation and now five years later, I’ve expanded the tale, and have released it as an ebook to help other parents teach their children to realise how precious their love is.  It is my prayer that it will help children to only give their heart to those who will value it.

You might also enjoy this post on speaking to children’s hearts (not their minds).

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Speak to the desires of the heart (teach your children godly sexuality)

So one of my boys kept lifting up the skirt of one of my girls to see their knickers.  An excellent opportunity to talk about godly sexuality with them I thought…

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So true to form I followed the principles I give in my workshop and talked about the goodness and the holiness of sexuality with them.  How it’s a good and beautiful part of a lady made by God but it’s also a special part and so we need to treat it with honour.

However he kept on doing it, despite talking about its specialness and despite disciplining him for repeatedly doing it.

I know, I know, I should have called out to God for help sooner – but sometimes we have to get desperate before we find ourselves on our knees actually listening – but He’s so gracious that when I did he gave me the wisdom I needed:

“Speak to the desires of the heart”

You see the trouble was that I was saying all the right things but I was talking to his logical mind rather than his desires.  And if we want to see change then we need to address the desires:

If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up people to collect wood and don’t assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea. (Antoine de Saint-Exupery)

But the question is: how do we address desires in a godly way?  In the same way as we teach any other aspect of godly sexuality; we talk about the goodness and the holiness of our desires.

You see God made him a boy and so there is a godly fascination and yearning in him for to complete the whole image of God:

“Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.” (Mt 19:4-6 emphasis mine)

The holiness is the fact that this fulfillment occurs in a covenantal relationship and this yearning is a shadow of our yearning for Christ (Eph 5:32) who is the “desire of all nations” (Hag 2:7).

Since he was only about 5 at the time, I had to keep things a bit simple, so I began:

“There’s something really interesting about girls, isn’t there?”  He nodded.  “God made girls attractive to us so that we really want to find out more.”  I could see that I now had his full attention.

“And that means that there’s something in us that wants to see their knickers.”

“But God made seeing a girl’s knickers to be something special for marriage just like you only get presents on special days like Christmas.”

Now it’s tempting to stop here, but doing so means that we are expecting them to conquer desires by self-effort which is law not grace. So now we need to offer to pray for them:

“But in the same way it’s hard to not open presents until Christmas day, it’s hard to stop looking at knickers.  So we need Daddy God’s help.  Can I pray with you?”

He nodded and the rest is history.

You see affirming the goodness of our children’s desires speaks to their reality, only then can we begin to steer these desires towards their intended goal.

Repetition is important (teach your children godly sexuality)

Children with a burnt cooking chicken in the kitchen. Smoke. Fac

So here I am, I’ve given workshops to parents about how to teach godly sexuality to their children.  I live these principles in my own life.  I don’t shy away from talking about sex and regularly have God-focussed conversations with my children about how our sexuality is good and holy.

It’s all too easy after you’ve had one conversation with your children about sex to pat yourself on the back and congratulate yourself on a job well done.  But just because you had “the talk” doesn’t mean they actually understood what you said.

This was brought home to me when one the mother of a friend of my youngest son said he had told her son that babies were made by the man peeing in the woman’s china.

I was mortified.  I was also humbled and repented of my self-satisfaction.  I learnt an important lesson that day:

Repetition is important, repetition is important and did I mention repetition is important.

I mentioned in a previous post about how talking about sexuality with our children should be “the talks” and not “the talk”.  Well this is another reason why.

It’s just like discipleship – understanding is something that happens gradually over a period of time it’s never a one-time brain dump.

Father may we never tire of sowing into our children’s lives until they grow into a mature knowledge of you, your creation and your nature.

Principle #4: Nothing is impossible (teach your children godly sexuality part 16)

Freedom sky copyWe’re on the last of our four principles in our current series on our basic course of “teach your children godly sexuality”.

Previously we talked about communicating the goodness and holiness of sexuality to our children and then how we can do that in a holistic Hebrew way.  Our last principle is a daily reminder that nothing is impossible for God (Lk 18:27).

In our last post we talked about how God can redeem all things no matter how dark they may seem.  And redemption doesn’t just remove the pain but transforms the memory or situation into a source of grace.

But God doesn’t just transform past mistakes – He is working in our present parenting:

Jesus is wisdom incarnate

“…Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.  For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom…” (1 Cor 1:24b-25a)

There will be times when as parents we just don’t know what to do.  Our human wisdom has run out.  But the end of our wisdom is just the beginning of God’s.

One of our children kept getting out of bed at night.  They would just come and stand on the landing.  So we tried carrying them back to bed several times a night.  We tried talking to them about it.  Then we tried the getting cross.  Then we tried putting a stairgate at their door so they couldn’t come out their room – but they still get out of bed and stood at the barrier until they were so tired.  We even tried smacking.  None of these methods worked.  They would still get up.

My wife and I fell on our knees in prayer before our all wise God, crying out “we don’t know what to do!”  I know, I know.  We should have asked before.  But this was our point of desperation.  You could almost hear the Father saying “great! now I can do something”.  He gave us revelation.  He simply said “leave his door open”.

“I’m sorry?  That’s a crazy idea!”

Don’t God’s ideas sometimes seem completely irrational to our way of thinking?  Rather like Naaman being told to wash in a dirty river to cure his leprosy (2 Kings:5:10-12).  But you know what?  We did it.  Why?  Because we were desperate and had run out of ideas.  We admitted that without Him we could do nothing (Jn 15:5) .

So we left the door open and they stayed in bed.  The same thing happened the next night and every night after that.

Something so simple, so “foolish” turned out to be the key.

I honestly think that had we not been at that point of desperation we would have dismissed such a thought as something stupid and certainly not of God.  We would have simply assumed that God was silent.  Perhaps being a desperate parent is a good thing, because it is only then are we able to receive all that God has for our children.  After all, He loves them and knows them better than us.

What is it that you are desperate for answers for your child?  Cry out to Jesus now – admit that you don’t know and receive His wisdom.

Do you have a story of receiving God’s wisdom for a situation with your children?  Share it below to encourage other parents on their journey.

Principle #4: Nothing is impossible (teach your children godly sexuality part 15)

Freedom sky copyToday we blog the last of our four principles from our basic course of “teach your children godly sexuality”.

We have already covered that we need to communicate that sexuality is good and that it is holy.  Then we looked at how we communicate these two messages in a holistic Hebrew way.

So what more do we need?  We need to be reminded of Jesus’ comment to the disciples:

“What is impossible with man is possible with God.” (Lk 18:27)

So we need to fix our eyes on Jesus not on statistics or news stories or human thinking.  We need to fill our minds with His great works and read testimonies of how Jesus does the impossible so our faith rises as we realise that He is able to do far more than we could ask or imagine.

God can renew all things

Nothing that happens is beyond God’s ability to redeem.  Whether we’re struggling with something that happened in our upbringing or a sin that we committed. Or whether we worried for our children that have experienced some trauma or other experience.  Nothing is impossible.  God can renew all things so that like Joseph we can say:

You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives. (Gen 50:20)

Let me give you an example from my own life.  One scene from my childhood that used to hold me captive was where my earthly father lined me and brothers up to find out who had done something wrong.  When all of us denied doing it I remember him screaming sarcastically how “Mr Nobody” had done it.  I think that we were all punished but it’s harder for me to remember that now as during a prayer time I was recalling this scene and asked for Jesus to show where He was.  I saw Him lined up next to us boys and when my father asked who’d done it – Jesus stepped forward and said “I did”.  Not only has the pain of this memory been removed but it has now become transformed in a place of glorious encounter with Jesus.

Can you see that like Joseph, God is not just going to enable us to forget our pain or even just come to a place where we can forgive those who hurt us – He’s going to transform the pain so that it becomes a source of grace.  We see this also in Isaiah:

…and by his wounds we are healed (Isa 53:5b)

Jesus wounds are a source of grace to us.  Jesus’ wounds are not something he has to forget or erase or just forgive – they have become glorious.  So much so that we see in Revelation 5 the whole of heaven worshipping the lamb who was slain.

This is true for us and our children – where there is wounding through relationships or sexuality there is not just healing available but there is a renewing so that it becomes a source of grace and healing to others.  Why are my wife and I passionate about bringing help and healing to others in the area of sexuality?  It’s because we have received grace to deliver us and transform us from our sexual dysfunctions, abuse and addictions.  So we are passing on the overflowing grace that we have received.

So be encouraged.  Nothing is impossible for our God!

Don’t live in fear or what may happen to your children, God is bigger.  Yes we’ll do our best – but we have a God who can transform even the worst situations.

Bringing about the changes

So if there’s trauma in your life or your children’s then seek help. We recommend sozo, restoring the foundations, liebusters and freedom in Christ as great places to find healing and transformation.

If there’s sin then confess it – bring it into the light. He already knows – but there is something powerful about confessing it that brings healing (Jas 5:16a). Be honest with God: I remember a conversation with God I had many years ago where I was honest with Him about how I liked a particular sin. There was such power released by that admission – much more than a “pretending” which never touched my heart.  It was then that change began to happen in my life.  Even more powerful is confessing with other brothers and sisters in Christ.  An army doesn’t send in one soldier at a time to battle the enemy.  They go together – so too with us fighting against sin.

Confessing sin destroys its power over us.  It wants to keep us ashamed and isolated.  So too with our children – keep the channels open and withhold judgement – we want to be someone they can come to when they get in a mess.  As their confession will help set them free.  And if we want them to confess to us then we should be modelling confession to them.  I regularly have to apologise to my children for the times when I “lose the plot”.  This doesn’t undermine my authority as a father – rather it shows that there is a higher authority that I submit to.  And as a result because of this my children feel able to confess their problems to me and receive forgiveness.

Finally, with regard to sins that we as parents committed growing up we naturally want our children to not repeat the same mistakes that we did – but instead of being honest with them it’s so tempting to hide our past and so deny our children the grace we’ve received.  We can end up saying things like “don’t do that…” which is powerless to help them change (Col 2:20-23).  Instead we need to reveal a little of our past to them – this doesn’t mean we tell them everything – but at the very least we can say “I made some mistakes that I regret and I don’t want you to make the same mistakes that I did”.  We can then tell them of the changes that God has brought about.  Suddenly our past is a source of grace for our children rather than something hidden and replaced with law.

Principle #3: As you walk along (teach your children godly sexuality part 14)

as you walk along copy

In our last post we began to look at the how of communicating the goodness and holiness of our sexuality.  We saw that it’s not “the talk” but lots of “talks” in the messiness of everyday life as it comes up.

We’re now going to tease this out a little bit in three short posts.

Be there and be first!

Since most our conversations about sexuality will come from answering questions/dealing with situations as they arise we need to be askable parents.  I don’t think I know of any parents who didn’t inwardly baulk when their child asked them something about sexuality.  But believe me: it’s far easier answering them when they’re little rather than having this conversation for the first time when they’re teenagers.  Just take a deep breath, pray for wisdom and talk as naturally and as matter of fact as you can.

However, sometimes certain topics don’t come up – whether because the child hasn’t thought about it or because they are shy and don’t like asking.  In which case we as parents need to initiate a conversation.  A simple way to do this is to say something like “when I was your age I used to wonder about…” or “when I was your age I used to worry about…”.

Don’t assume that no questions means that your child is not thinking about things!*

It might be worth drawing up a checklist of topics that your want to cover with the ages that you feel are appropriate (yes really! I’ll do one at some point in the future to share). Then you can tick them off as you cover them.  This is important because ideally we want to be the ones giving the first message about sexuality.  So in the UK children will get the “plumbing” science lesson about sexual organs in Year 7 so it needs to be covered by then at the very latest.  Otherwise we have to undo a lot of confusion.

A simple example that really brought this home to me was when one of my children listened to Jonathan Park story about aliens which used the bible to prove (yes really!) that they couldn’t exist.  They were adamant that this was true – as it was the first message they had heard.

So let’s ensure that the first message they hear about sexuality is about how special it is because it reflects God’s glory!

Think about your own experience of this:

When did you first hear about sex?  What was the message portrayed?  

OK.  Now it’s your turn to practise being an askable parent by answering this tricky question I received from one of my children.

Dad, why does my willy get hard sometimes?

Talks not “the talk”

We’ve already mentioned in this post and the last one that we respond to questions as they arise and give answers that are not only godly but also age-appropriate.  So we won’t ever have “the talk” but lots of little talks.

It may be tempting also to breathe a sigh of relief after you’ve “covered” a topic but repetition is important.  Children will ask the same questions again for reassurance and also we can never be sure that they’ve actually learnt what we’ve said.

I learnt this the hard way.  We worked so hard with our oldest child on giving godly responses to the many questions she asked when she was young and we’d covered all the topics so I secretly congratulated myself on a job well done.  However, it turns out in conversation with her some years later that she had forgotten everything we had said and because she was older and bit more shy about these issues (especially so since we hadn’t been talking about them because we thought we were done) – she stopped asking us and started asking others instead.  Hence she started all sorts of contradictory ideas.

Stories are better than facts/rules/morals

Facts are dry and don’t engage the soul whereas stories draw you in and teach concepts in a much deeper way than ever “objective” facts could hope to do.  This is the Hebrew way of life – sharing their collective story with their children, for example the Passover meal (Ex 12:24-27) or telling stories of why memorial stones are placed there (Josh 4:2-7).  Much of the Bible is written as narrative/story and Jesus taught ideas through parables/stories (eg  “what should I do to inherit eternal life?” Lk 10:25-37).  A story invites our participation whether it’s true or fictional.

For example, one of our girls was flirting with a boy who was, quite frankly, treating her appallingly.  But she just couldn’t see this.  So I made up a story called “The Princess and the Crocodile” where a princess who loves pets wants a crocodile but her father refuses saying it won’t be a good pet because it won’t love her back.  So she decides to go to the river and well, let’s just say her father had to rescue her from a sticky situation…

Our children also view any stories about us (especially about when mummy and daddy were courting) as something extra special and so they are powerful messages.

However, it isn’t always appropriate to share specifics so we may say something like “before I was a Christian I made some wrong choices about…which I regret now and so I want to make sure that you don’t make the same mistakes I did”

But just like we talked about in our post about godly parenting, we don’t have to be perfect.  We just have to point to a perfect saviour.  For example: “I struggled with that too…but God helped me…”

This is easier said than done, particularly if you have shame about something.  Like Adam and Eve we want to cover it up but still want to prevent our children from making that same mistake.  However, what will happen is that we’ll simply end up preaching at them which will turn them off and will then cause them to repeat the same mistakes as us!  The only way to break the cycle is confession to God and then humility to our children!

Here’s some questions for personal reflection:
Think of a story that your parents told about themselves before they were married.
What effect did this have on you?

Is there something sexual that you did that you now regret?
Confess it to your Father and receive His forgiveness and healing.
How can you communicate this mistake to your children in a sensitive way that will help them to break the cycle?

Now let’s see if we can apply this principle to helping our children:
Think of a story from your life that you can share with your children about:

  • A worry you had about your body when growing up
  • A hard lesson you learnt about sexuality being holy/about character

I hope you’ve found this post helpful.  Feel free to share any comments, stories or experiences below.

Principle #3 As you walk along (teach your children godly sexuality part 13)

as you walk along copy
We have now seen that when teaching sexuality we should ensure that our answers walk the line between declaring it’s goodness and also it’s holiness.  The third principle looks at the how we communicate these truths.

The first problem we have is that in our culture we have absorbed what is called the Platonic divide.  That is that there is the important spiritual realm and the separate and less important physical realm.

In an earlier post or on this YouTube video we saw how this view had corrupted understanding of the value of our bodies and our sexuality.

However it also created the so-called sacred/secular divide in our worldview.  Sacred stuff such as meditation, prayer and going to church are important but everyday stuff such as paying bills and shopping is not.

We can therefore see church on Sunday as important and the rest of the week as mundane.

We can have our family “devotion” time and then the rest of our time is unspiritual.

Similarly we can end up having “the talk” about sex from a Christian point of view separate from everyday life.

However, this is not the Hebrew godly view of the world that has no divide (or if you prefer posh words it is holistic or theocentric).  This view is that God is intimately involved in everything.  He didn’t create the world, wind it up and then stand back to watch (except for the occasional special event).  For example:

“in [Jesus] all things hold together” Col 1:17b
“The Son is…sustaining all things by his powerful word” Heb 1:3
“My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I too am working.” Jn 5:17

It is not God’s involvement that can be limited, but only our awareness of it*.

For example, it was only when Moses was just tending sheep but when he met God there it became holy ground that he had to take his sandals off (Ex 3:1-5).

When Jacob ran away and feel asleep exhausted on a rock he encountered God through a dream and awoke saying “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I was not aware of it.”  He renamed the place bethel which meanshouse of God and anointed the rock with oil (Gen 28:10-18).

Similarly any place or an event has the opportunity of becoming “holy” when we encounter God in it.  For us, one such moment was on the day we discovered that one of our babies had died.  This was the second of our babies to die and we were distraught.  More so, because the hospital was so uncompassionate.  My wife and I had decided to name our baby James and we drove in a darkened daze to a garden centre to buy a tree to plant in our garden so we could remember him.  We were directed by one of the staff to the apple trees to discover they only had one type of tree in stock.  Its name?  James Grieve.  The love and compassion of God crashed into our grief torn hearts and made it a holy moment that remains with us now 7 years later.

How does this relate to teaching our children?  Recall the passage in Deuteronomy where it says:

“Listen, Israel: The LORD is our God, the LORD is one! You must love the LORD your God with your whole mind, your whole being, and all your strength.  These words I am commanding you today must be kept in mind, and you must teach them to your children and speak of them as you sit in your house, as you walk along the road, as you lie down, and as you get up. You should tie them as a reminder on your forearm and fasten them as symbols on your forehead. Inscribe them on the doorframes of your houses and gates.” Dt 6:4-9

If we read this with a dualistic mindset we will think this means “teach our children the bible” wherever we go.  But if we understand that God is everywhere, that everything was made for Jesus (Col 1:16) and the heavens declare the glory of God” (Ps 19) then this will mean that everywhere we go the glory of God is there ready to be discovered and shared with our children.  Not as a lecture but as a beautiful celebration of the glory of God.

For example we might see a flower opening we could share with our children how that reminds us that we need to open ourselves up to the Son who shines His love on us and warms our hearts.

Specifically because we’re made in His image our sexuality reflects the glory of our Three-in-One God there is nothing else that can tell us so much about God!

So we won’t have “the talk” but lots of “talks” in the messiness of everyday life as it comes up.  Each time celebrating the glory of our God that is revealed.  Nothing heavy but just a conversation simply delighting in the way God made it good and holy.

More to come in the next post….

*I’m sure I got this phrase from a book – but I can’t remember which of the many books I’ve read!  If you know then please tell me via the comments and I’ll properly credit the author.  Thanks!