I’m excited today to feature a guest post from Christian adult fiction author Regina Jennings! Her newest historical romance, Love in the Balance, comes out on March 1.
Once upon a time…
When those four words are said, the toys become quiet, little heads lean closer, and older siblings come running from their bedrooms. What’s Mom going to read? Which story is it today?
Yes, reading fiction is a nice way to spend a rainy afternoon. It benefits kids academically, increases vocabulary, stirs their imagination and exposes them to cultures they won’t have a chance to experience in real life. But fiction is…well, it’s not really essential for Christians, is it? We have the Bible. We have sermons. What can we learn from fiction that we won’t learn there?
Unfortunately, in the Christian propensity to divide the world into sacred and secular we often toss fiction into the bin of the unnecessary, suspect and potentially corrupting. But stories are powerful and influential — used for millennia to encourage virtue and teach truth — and parents shouldn’t neglect literature as a tool to shape their children’s character.
Here are three benefits I’ve noticed from reading fiction with my children:
1. We get a bigger picture of God’s story than we can experience in one lifetime.
If we had unlimited time and money, I’d arranged for my children to spend time with an Indian orphan, a South American nun and an Oxford student. From those individuals’ varied experiences, my kids would be better able to evaluate their own culture and how we apply the Bible. They’d learn how God’s precepts look outside of their mid-American philosophy and how eternal concepts like faith, grace and justice are lived out in different communities.
Of course this kind of travel is impossible, but they can meet Christians of different cultures and different eras through stories. We’ve stood by the side of an underground church planter in China. We’ve gone on a pilgrimage to Spain with a very young betrothed couple. We’ve helped a boy catch runaway circus monkeys to pay for his sister’s surgery. Through their adventures we see people following God on paths that we’ll never travel. We get a sense of the praise and obedience offered by generations before us and tongues unknown.
2. Stories are the laboratory of truth.
When scientists experiment, they isolate the subject into a controlled atmosphere. To judge the influence of various stimulants, they need to know exactly what the subject was exposed to. In real life, even if children recognize dishonesty, bullying, or greed in their peers the consequences are not instantaneous. Stories, on the other hand, give them a chance to connect the dots. They will remember the flaw that led to a character’s downfall. They won’t forget the virtue that helped him through his blackest moment. Good children’s fiction draws a clear connection between the eventual triumph of the hero and his virtue or faith.
Even Jesus used fiction to teach eternal truths—the Good Samaritan, the Prodigal Son, the Good Shepherd. I’ve never heard a sermon on these passages that was as powerful as the stories themselves. Instead of using real examples, Jesus boiled down a storyline to focus on one truth, clarifying a difficult concept and branding it into our hearts.
3. Fiction is convicting.
As a child, I can remember going to church on nights when the sermon was going to be about child-rearing. I have wonderful parents, and we got along great, but I still dreaded those Sundays. My neck would get stiff before I ever opened my Bible to Ephesians Six. Why? Because knowing that a lecture was coming raised my defenses. I didn’t want to hear something that would change me. I wanted to be left alone.
Evidently, the prophet Nathan anticipated this same reaction when he went to speak to David about his adultery with Bathsheba. Now, I’m sure David had a list of excuses ready for when this moment came, but Nathan outwitted him. Instead of lecturing him, Nathan told David a fictional story about a poor man who’d been wronged by a rich man. Failing to see the connection, David reacted with righteous outrage. The man should be killed, David said—a sentence that he would have never pronounced on himself, until the story convicted him.
In our arsenal of character building tools we have scripture, devotionals, check-lists, and chores, but let’s not neglect quality fiction…because the story doesn’t have to be true to teach us the truth.
Here are a few lists of character building books for kids to get you started:
What fictional books have you read that shaped your or your kids’ character?
Regina Jennings is a homeschooling mother of four from Oklahoma. Once she’s finished reading to her children for the day, she gets out the laptop and writes Christian fiction for grown-ups. Her family enjoys serving on their church mission team together and playing Uno.
Twitter – www.twitter.com/ReginaJennings