One of our greatest privileges as parents is to teach our children about God’s love, but just because His love is perfect doesn’t mean it’s easy to convey. Sometimes it feels like just the opposite!
So how do we make the unfathomable love of an invisible God come alive for the smallest humans? One of my favorite ways is to use parables, simple stories that illustrate deeper truths.
The Bible contains many such teaching stories, but the power of parables doesn’t have to stop there. The shelves of our homes and local libraries are full of books we can use to make hard-to-understand truths suddenly clear. Sharing stories with our children can open doors to explore complex topics, breathe fresh life into familiar ideas, and pave the way for authentic conversations.
Talking about heartbreak and healing with The Rough Patch
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We are huge Brian Lies fans over here. I love him for his poetic prowess and the way he captures both the playfulness and tenderness of childhood. If you are not familiar with his New York Times-bestselling “Bats” series, get your hands on some of them right away. (My favorite is Bats at the Beach.)
So when I learned that he had a new book out, I ran over to our library and snatched up The Rough Patch. In it, Evan and his dog enjoy doing everything together, especially working in Evan’s beautiful, fruitful garden.
But when Evan’s dog dies, he is overcome with grief and sadness. He destroys his garden and begins bitterly tending the weeds that spring up in its place.
And then one day…a pumpkin vine creeps under the fence. When Evan lets it stay, he begins a journey of healing that comes full circle.
Sow seeds of God’s love before the storm
I immediately loved the book, but the themes of loss and grief made me pause before sharing it. I knew I didn’t want to wait for a difficult situation to present itself, but I did want to make sure we would have time to process these important topics well. Since that is not a natural inclination for my sweet superhero-ninjas who are very busy saving the world with Tinkertoys and balled-up socks, I waited.
Then we were memorizing Psalm 23 and got to verse four:
Even though I walk through the darkest valley,Psalm 23:4
I will fear no evil, for you are with me,
your rod and your staff, they comfort me.
Perfect. I finagled a way for it to be Mommy’s turn to pick the bedtime story, and we were on our way.
After we read, I asked what jumped out at them. They immediately piped up about the happy ending and the sad loss.
Then I asked eight-year-old G to run over and read our memory verse displayed on the fridge. Now, I guess I could have had the verse in hand, but then they would have gotten suspicious. Psst…mom is setting up a teaching moment. That would have quickly extinguished any spark of interest. Plus, having him run over and call out the verse helped to stave off what I call the “serious sillies.”
You know the serious sillies, right? They happen when you are about to discuss something serious and the children instantaneously LOSE THEIR MINDS. (And then 20 minutes later when they’re back on track, you’ve forgotten what you were going to say, and everyone is grumpy! Just me?) Anyway, I’ve found giving them an active role can help channel that inexhaustible energy in the right direction (no guarantees, people).
God’s love is strong, even when we struggle
After G called out the verse and rejoined us, I asked what connections they saw. Silence. Then they began flipping through the book to the page where Evan buries his dog. “That’s the dark valley,” said four-year-old C, his little finger pressing on the sad scene. Inhale. Exhale.
“Yes,” I started slowly, “you know, sometimes when we go through a dark valley, we remember the Lord is our shepherd right away. We remember his care, and it comforts us. But sometimes, we forget.”
I told them how seeing that vine creep under the fence reminded me of how God never gives up on us. When we run away, he still pursues us. When we are bitter and angry, he still loves us. And…he sends us reminders of his love–sometimes unexpected reminders, sometimes pumpkin vines. No matter what we do, he is always calling us back to himself because of his great love.
A simple prayer
Even though they didn’t have a lot of words, I could tell they were touched. It seemed right to close that tender moment with prayer.
Thank you, Lord, for letting us find you in a story about a fox and his dog.
Thank you that you are with us in the valley.
Thank you that you comfort us like a shepherd.
Thank you that you never let us go.
This is an imperfect story of an imperfect family trying to make more room for a perfect, loving God. I would love to hear from you–on anything from Brian Lies fandom to teaching children Psalm 23 to how you overcome the “serious sillies.” Please join the conversation by leaving a comment below.
Whether you read to the bottom with interest or impatiently scrolled down because “ohmygosh, I don’t have time for stories about your kids,” look what you found! Here are the basics about using The Rough Patch to start authentic conversations about God’s love in your own family. (And hey, no hard feelings if you scrolled down. I am mostly that mom. We busy.)
|BOOK: THE ROUGH PATCH|
|AUTHOR & ILLUSTRATOR: BRIAN LIES|
|* Even when we forget God’s love and give in to our sadness or anger for a time, God never gives up on us. He is always calling us back to himself.|
* In sadness, God sends reasons to hope. He is our good shepherd.
* Losing someone you love is hard. The Lord is always with us, and he cares deeply.
|Bible Verses or Stories:|
|* Psalm 23: The Lord is our caring shepherd.|
* Psalm 139:7-12: God is always loving us, always pursuing us.
We’d love to hear your favorite Bible stories or children’s books that teach God’s love. Much love to you!