Psalm 119:103-104 How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth! I gain understanding from your precepts; therefore I hate every wrong path.”
By: Dana Baran
I am passionate about reading. For as long as I can remember I’ve been a reader. Mom likes to tell people that I taught myself to read when I was four, and began reading chapter books around age six (lest you think I’m some sort of genius, let me assure you that my precociousness in this area was balanced out by struggles in others…namely math and spelling). I have always been captivated by the power stories have – to let us travel to faraway places and times, to give us adventures, to allow us to vicariously face dangers, and to give us fantastic friends we can visit again and again (I’m a fan of re-reading favorite books).
There is a big push in public education right now to limit the reading of fiction, or at least to make sure the amount of non-fiction students read is equal to the amount of fiction. While I agree that there is much to be gained from reading non-fiction, especially true stories of historical figures and heroes, I will never limit the amount of fiction my children read. There is too much to be gained from a firm grasp of story elements and structure, too much magic in getting “lost” in a story, too much character development that comes from meeting and living alongside great heroes for me to enforce limitations. Now while I won’t tell my daughter she has to read one biography for every novel she chooses, I will carefully monitor the books she reads. Stories are powerful, and the wrong kinds of stories can certainly lead to loss of innocence, unhealthy curiosity about worldly things, and stunted character development. Even a good story can be read at the wrong time, leading to misunderstandings or knowledge that a child isn’t emotionally equipped to deal with.
One of the best and easiest ways to monitor what your children read is to read aloud. There is a myriad of benefits from reading aloud…enhanced vocabulary, modeled fluency, a safe place for discussion, developing a common language of story, strengthened relationships , life lessons…the list could go on and on. My parents’ use of shared stories certainly contributed to my love for reading, as well as my brother’s. I’m sure he won’t mind if I share that although my brother struggled with severe dyslexia for most of his childhood, thanks to my parents reading aloud to us he was still able to develop a love for stories which motivated him to overcome his challenges. Now in his twenties my bro is a voracious reader who has read everything from the Chronicles of Narnia to the Lord of the Rings trilogy.
So why this long essay on my love for and belief in the importance of reading? I know this doesn’t seem like much of a devotional piece, but hear me out. The most important benefit of reading is that God uses stories to teach us about Him. The Bible is not a long essay detailing God’s attributes, or a series of sermons extolling His might. It is a collection of stories. They are true stories, in which the Lord used weak and ordinary people to do extraordinary things, not to champion the strength of the human spirit but instead to show us His might, power, glory, and love. Most importantly, the Bible tells us the Great Story, the True Story that all other stories are merely reflections of. It is a story of True Love, of Good against Evil, of incredible sacrifice, of the eventual triumph of Good and the ultimate Happy Ending. Is it any wonder that a good story can move us to tears and affect our very soul? It’s because we see in that fictional tale a glimmer of the True Story, God’s unbelievable, undeserved love for us, which prompted Him to make the ultimate sacrifice, His son, dying in our place, so that we can be redeemed and experience the fullness of His love and a relationship with the all-powerful, all-knowing, holy God. It’s a concept we can barely grasp, which is why He whispers its truth to us in fairy tales, in adventure stories, in mysteries that keep you guessing until the final chapter.
Reading to our children prepares their hearts and minds to better understand the only story that really matters. The Gospel. I hope you may remember to take this high view of reading the next time your child hands you that well-worn copy of Cat in the Hat, or begs for just one more chapter from Charlotte’s Web before you turn out the light. Of all the benefits of reading, and there are so many, I truly believe the ultimate gift reading gives is a better understanding of God Himself. I’ll climb off my soapbox now, realizing that I may have gotten a little carried away. But hey, if your passions don’t move you to a bit of philosophizing and preaching every now and then, they wouldn’t be passions now would they?