A formerly homeschooled kid myself, I never felt the desire to homeschool my own children. However, when schools across the country closed in March due to Coronavirus, my local school was among them. So here I am teaching science at the kitchen table and trying to remember algebra tricks I last used in the ‘90s. What’s more, with churches closing, I’m also now responsible for my children’s faith formation without the help of Sunday School and the examples and input of other Christians. That’s a tall order.
Just as with schooling, I’m keeping my faith formation expectations realistic (read: low), by relying on our habit of reading aloud meaningful picture books and stories from Scripture. But here’s my problem: In my efforts to make the kids biblically literate over the years, I’ve discovered it’s hard to choose a children’s Bible. There are some really problematic ones out there! Like me, you might have paged through children’s Bibles and chafed at oversimplified stories, inaccurately Caucasian-looking characters, or disturbing ancient Israelite exploits. (“And then they slaughtered them all, even the cattle.’” Sleep tight!) Maybe the way the editors frame substitutionary atonement seems sure to give your child a crippling guilt complex or a violent view of God, or you’re not so young anymore and the print is just too tiny.
Besides that, the options are overwhelming. There are illustrated story Bibles, baby board book Bibles, graphic novelizations, Bibles that tie in to favorite book or TV characters, and versions for everyone from “Young American Patriots” to “Faithgirlz.” And then there are the online resources! Audio retellings, dramatizations, and video series…it’s easy to feel overwhelmed. How can we make sure we’re picking the right stuff?
I don’t think we can make sure. In fact, I’m not sure the best children’s Bibles are on my shelves, but I’m ok with that. I’m growing into what I call the “lace tablecloth” viewpoint. Let me explain: My grandmother collected antique linens, mostly gleaned from rummage sales in her rural county. On afternoons when I’d visit, we’d open the suitcase where she stored them and spread out her treasures on the table top. One lacey tablecloth over another, until they covered the entire surface. By the end, you could hardly see the wooden table beneath.
The way I see it, every Bible lesson or story version I expose my children to will have some gaps in it, or maybe a lot of holes, like a lace tablecloth. It won’t convey the whole truth. It will leave something out. It will miss some subtlety. But with enough exposure over the years to the Bible’s message through books, sermons, life lessons, and music, I will hopefully be placing layer after layer of helpful truths, however imperfect, over that table until there are fewer and smaller holes… and more holiness.
I’m learning to trust that the Holy Spirit will work in my children’s minds with—and perhaps despite—the Bible stories and Christian books I read them as they “grow in the grace and knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ.” This allows me to parent—and teach—from a place of rest rather than anxiety. And if you’ll excuse me, I need to head back to the kitchen table—covered with a lace tablecloth from Grandma’s collection—to put away the math workbooks. Praying for God’s peace for all of us in God’s family as we’re on this faith formation journey together, but, for now, apart.
Note to parents: the Episcopal Church has some excellent resources to help you choose Bibles and Christian readings for your children. Check out these posts from Forward Movement, Forma and Building Faith!
Worshiping at home with Children during Covid19
Faith@Home: Lectionary based resources for all ages
[Image Credit: Egle via Flickr]
Gretchen Pritchard says
Don’t rule out reading aloud from the actual Bible, straight from a liturgical translation (e.g. the New Revised Standard or even the Revised Standard Version, which has richer, more sonorous language). There’s no substitute for the deep, earthy language, the rich parallelism, of Hebrew poetry; the mysterious universality of the Genesis saga; the unnerving simplicity and immediacy of the Gospels. Children don’t have to grasp every paragraph rationally, or see everything filtered through the eyes of an illustrator.
Consider reading a chapter or half-chapter aloud every evening after dinner, making your way through the books of the Bible, in particular, that are featured in the lectionary (the four Gospels, the Epistles; Genesis, Exodus, Deuteronomy, Ruth, 1 and 2 Samuel, the Prophets and Psalms … eventually also, Acts and Revelation). Even better if this can be embedded in family prayer and wondering conversation (not drawing out of morals or doctrine!). A consistent practice of family liturgy may be a greater gift than even the best children’s Bible ever.
Meredith Baker says
This is a great point. I think we become anxious when we try to make sure that children “get it” or have an immediate takeaway instead of allowing the encounter to happen without expectations.