The only downside to this unexpected gift was that the giver was technically supposed to be in the fellowship hall for Kids Club as opposed to delivering dinosaur paraphernalia to my office. Oh well, sometimes we need to bend the rules a bit for dinosaurs.
“Come on,” I said, “you need to go back to the fellowship hall. I’ll see you when you guys come back to the sanctuary for music and closing.”
“You should tell us another story.”
Now where did that come from? Ok, I knew exactly where that came from. I am a storyteller: a tall tale spinner, a chronic over exaggerator, a creative liar. I can’t help it. There are few things I love more than a good story. Occasionally, I have even used storytelling as an alternative way to share the Gospel. I told a yarn about trolls and broken nativity sets on Christmas Eve and a tale about an errant chimera to teach about prayer. You get the idea. Stories have a way of worming their way into our hearts that is different and sometimes more effective than sermons or lessons.
But when it comes to stories, kids always focus on the means as opposed to the end. While they may get flashes about how God loves them and the power of prayer, they’re usually going to be more interested in the trolls and the chimeras. For them, the story itself is often more compelling than the moral at the end.
And this little girl was no different. She wanted more stories: more chimeras, more trolls, and more magic. She didn’t want a lesson, she wanted an adventure.
We are not all that different from her if we dig down deep enough. There is just something about a good story: the characters that delight us, the suspense that pulls us in, the action that keeps us wanting more. The best stories aren’t the ones we learn from, but rather the ones we get to live in. It is deeply human to hanker after a good story, to want to sink into another world, and to long to be carried away by our imaginations.
Maybe that’s why Jesus spent so much time telling stories. Stories about lost sheep and lost sons, scattered seeds, and good Samaritans. Sometimes he explained what the stories meant, sitting his disciples down and saying “this is means x and this stands for y,” but most of the time he just let the stories be. He left them for us to hear, think about, and, perhaps most importantly, participate in.
He knew, I believe, that his stories would stick. Perhaps they’d change in the telling, perhaps his disciples would never quite figure them out, but in the end that didn’t matter. The stories had been told. He had let them loose in his follower’s hearts and those poor fishermen would never be the same. Jesus sent his apostles out into the world carrying his stories jumbled up inside of them, as much a part of who they were as He was.
So that’s why, after we’d sung a song or two I sat the kids down and told them a story. It was less polished than what I do in church and there wasn’t much of a lesson learned at the end. It takes time to craft a moral that doesn’t sound, well, moralizing. But the moral wasn’t the point, the story was. That afternoon the kids and I practiced using our imaginations. We practiced entering a world of impossible occurrences, mythical monsters, and bizarre plot twists. We practiced because imagination can get out of shape just like anything else. We practiced because I have faith that if those kids can take a few moments to believe in chimeras, trolls, and magical cans of peas, they will be awesome when it comes to things like justice, mercy, and God’s love everlasting.