Today is day two of Vacation Bible School at our church. Lots of kiddos, lots of energy, lots of fun.
The first year I volunteered at VBS was at a church up near Los Angeles. I was a young seminary intern who had driven across the country from New Jersey.
The church children’s director assigned me to lead the preschool class. I should have known I was in trouble when she told me I was welcome to “bring extra toys from home.”
That’s when I should have reminded her that I was 1) 26-years old and childless, 2) a summer intern who had driven 3,000 miles across the country in a tiny Toyota, and C) not at all sure how to hold the interest of a 4-year-old for more than ten seconds.
I didn’t say any of this. But at the end of the first morning 26-year-old me was in tears, exhausted, convinced the morning had actually been a thousand hours long. The director took one look at me and transferred me to a 5th grade class for the rest of the week.
“What happened?” she asked me, helping me pick gum out of my ponytail.
“I have no idea,” I said. “I tried to get them to sit down while we memorized the Bible verse and it was just not happening.”
“Oh, Courtney,” she said, “preschoolers just want a good story!”
Now that I have kids of my own, I’ve learned that the quickest way to address a bad mood, adjust a temper tantrum, or soothe a sick little one is with a good story.
It’s all about story, isn’t it? Adults as well as children are drawn in by stories. They make us think and inspire us and awaken our imaginations.
There’s a reason the Bible is primarily narrative. From the epic tales of the Old Testament to the parables of Jesus, stories are lived or spun and then retold over and over again through the generations. God loves to reveal through story.
We are a storytelling people, and God is a storytelling God.
Stories stick with us. We all still remember the three bears, the three pigs, what happened to the boy who cried wolf. We mull over details and draw new lessons from the family lore of how hard grandpa worked or what it meant to immigrate to America from Germany, from Guatemala, from Ghana, from Greece.
Stories invite speculation. They draw us deeper by making us think and ponder and muse and pray.
Take one of Jesus’ shortest parables, for example. From Matthew 13:
The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field.
These two simple sentences that a second grader could easily read have intrigued scholars for centuries. Why is the kingdom hidden? Why does the man hide it again? What does it mean to buy the field where the kingdom is buried?
Was the man looking for the treasure, or did he stumble upon it? How did he recognize it for the treasure that it was?
It’s enough to chew on for an hour, a day, a year, a lifetime.
Yet the message is simple enough for one of my preschoolers.
The kingdom of heaven? It’s a treasure. It’s worth all that we are and all that we have. Now that’s a story.
What stories from Scripture are nurturing you these days?