Connecting With Our Children's Hearts Through Story

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By Jaime Showmaker

It was a typical Wednesday morning. We were driving to our homeschool co-op and we were discussing The Princess in the Goblin, the book we had been reading aloud over the past few days. We had come to a particularly adventurous part in the tale, and my boys were eagerly trading “well I would have…” stories, trying to best one another in courage and imagination. As I often do, I made a comment about how I knew they were all going to be heroes someday, and I couldn’t wait to see what kind of adventures God had planned for them in the story they were living. As my two younger boys continued to laugh and describe increasingly gruesome encounters with hypothetical goblins, I noticed my oldest son looking thoughtfully out the window. I drove on, thinking his quiet was due to sleepiness in the early morning hour. But after a moment, he spoke up.

“Mommy...I think God might have made me a hobbit.”

I caught my breath because, in an instant, I realized exactly what he was trying to tell me. But I was struck, not just with his actual confession, but with the manner in which he chose to share his heart with me. He chose to reveal himself to me through the character in a story.

I’m always grateful for the time that I get to spend reading with my children, but in that moment, my heart was completely flooded with gratitude as I contemplated the way in which a story had just given me a glimpse of my son’s secret heart.

My son is only eight years old. He doesn’t quite have the self-awareness to express that he is what one would call a “homebody.” He’s a rule-follower--the practical, down-to-earth, cautious one, who would rather sit under a tree and read architecture books than climb it. And, although I do know this about him, I still frequently try to gently stretch him out of his comfort zone and encourage him to take a few more risks. And one of the ways that I try to inspire him is through literature. I want my boys to see themselves as characters in a grand story, so I fill their hearts and minds with pictures and tales of courageous men and women, who do the hard things and go the extra mile. I want them to relate to the characters that they encounter and emulate them. And my sweet son did exactly that. He saw himself in the story. But it wasn’t in the way that I expected. Yet, he was able to use the character in Tolkien’s tale to express to me something that he longed for me to understand, but didn’t yet have the vocabulary to convey: he may not be built for THAT kind of adventure. And, perhaps, my constant words of glorious feats and daring escapades may put undue pressure on him to be something that he just is not. I’m not sure how or when he would have been able to tell me this truth about himself without the shared experience of story. And so, because of the power of story to connect my child with a truth he couldn’t express otherwise, I am reminded that there are many kinds of heroes; and I have been spared the regret of trying to inadvertently make my precious child into a character that God Himself didn’t write him to be.

Just like my son’s confession that he is more hobbit than hero, stories give our children the ability to convey things that they are not quite developmentally ready to express. They allow us to connect with their hearts on a very profound level when they express that they, like Edmund, probably would have eaten the Turkish Delight too. Or when they shyly admit that they like Caddie Woodlawn much more than the fairy tale princess. They cheer when the underdog beats the bully or when the minor character steps into the spotlight for just a brief moment.  And if we listen carefully to what they are telling us, we realize that they aren’t always talking about the story, but are sometimes telling us a bit about themselves. What a precious, precious gift.

So, from now on, I’m going to be more careful about the way I try to speak to my boys about the immeasurable potential that they have. I’m going to continue to lay out a feast of adventure stories before them, of course--full of heroes and dragon-slayers and mountain climbers and kingdom conquerors. But, be assured, I am also going to give them an array of tales that include quiet heroes--men of wisdom and contemplation, who are full of moral courage and fortitude. Less David, and more Solomon. And I will continue to love and encourage my sweet “hobbit” son. Because if the greatest risks he ever takes are in the death-defying heights and configurations of the structures he longs to build, I will rejoice in the truth that he is living the exact story that God meant for him to live. And that makes him a hero too.