Sally Lloyd-Jones: Communicating the truth of who God is to childrenSeptember 26, 2017
Sally Lloyd-Jones is the author of the Jesus Storybook Bible, but she’s also the author of many other things, and a wonderful storyteller. She has a new book called His Royal Highness King Baby: A Terrible True Story. You can find out all about it at sallylloyd-jones.com, and we’re going to talk today with Sally about children and about communicating the truth of who God is to children, and how we’ve messed that up.
Carmen: Welcome to The Reconnect.
Sally: Thank you so much for having me.
Carmen: I really want to start with, what is the reaction that you feel like most kids give when we ask them about how they feel or what they think about the Bible?
Sally: Well, I think I’ll just speak from what I remember as a child. When I was about six I would have said, “I think it’s telling you how you should behave so God will love you, or it’s also giving people to copy, because you have to copy people in the Bible to be like the way God wants you to be.” That’s what I would have thought. In other words, a book or rules or a book of heroes that you’re supposed to copy so that God will love you.
Carmen: One of the things that, at least in our family, you have helped bring to life and bring to light, is that that is not what the Bible is about.
Sally: No, thank goodness. Thank God.
Carmen: Tell us why you wrote the Jesus Storybook Bible. You know, there’s more than two million people out there with their hands on it, but I do think it’s a tremendous gift to families who have thought the way that many of us thought about the Bible, and you have written something and done something that is changing the way parents and others can approach sharing the Bible with children. Why did you write the Jesus Storybook Bible? Why do you write books like this brand new one, His Royal Highness King Baby? Why are you doing this? What’s the motivation?
Sally: The reason I’m writing, I think is to bring joy to children. Whether I do that through telling the story of the Bible or with this new book, which is basically a book that helps older siblings when a new baby comes along, I want to bring comfort and joy to a child where they are. For children, things like potty training can be traumatic, so I wrote a book called Skip To The Loo My Darling, because it makes potty training fun.
I’m always on the level with the child, thinking how can I help them in their experience that, to them, is as huge as, like for instance potty training. If you said to an adult right now, “Stand up in front of 1,000 people and give a speech,” you wouldn’t like it as an adult. Well that, I think, approximates how a toddler feels when you tell them they have to go on the potty. You know, they’re terrified. If you can make that fun for them, then I think you’re doing what God would have you do. That’s how I feel my job is.
Then for, in terms of telling the story of the Bible, the key is, it’s a story. It’s not a rule book. It has rules in it that help us know how to live, and it does have some heroes in it, but really, hardly any of them are heroes. When you look at them, they’re very broken, which thank goodness, because we’re broken. Once you realize the Bible is a story, it’s not about what you are supposed to do so God will love you, it’s about what God has done because He loves you.
Once you realize the Bible is a story, it’s not about what you are supposed to do so God will love you, it’s about what God has done because He loves you.
It’s the most fantastic rescue story. Which, I know little boys, they come up and they want their Bible signed, and you can see in their eyes that their imagination has caught fire because there’s this hero and this great rescue, and they can be part of the story. Then, it’s also a love story about a prince who comes and rescues his lost treasure. You can’t really beat that, and once children see that it’s a story, you capture their imagination, and then that’s from there that lives change.
Carmen: One of the things that I have heard you say, and I would love for my listeners to hear you say as well, is this invitation to not feel like, as the adult or as the parent, I have to have all the answers, I have to tie it all up in a neat little bow, I have to resolve or solve everything, and I have to bring it all to resolution by the end of the story and make the application and be sure everybody knows this is what the story means. Right? Wash that away for us and invite us into the leaving things with wonder.
Sally: Yes, well the truth is, a story is powerful, and it’s like a seed, it works secretly. Only though, if it’s not explained to death and sort of drilled down into a moral lesson. We prefer bullet points and we like rulers and measuring, because then we’re in control. Then we can see, “Oh good, I did a good job because I checked all these boxes.” My thing would be to encourage people to trust the story.
If you read a story to the child, let the story do the work. The minute you say, you read a story, and I have fallen into this mistake myself. You read the story, and then at the end you think, “I’ve got to make an application.” Then you go, “So children, what does this teach us about how God wants us to behave?” Basically, what you’ve done is you’ve taken it from being a story, and you’ve made it a moral lesson. A story isn’t a sermon, it’s a story. Sermons are a different thing.
When you read a story, the power of the story needs to be the power of the story. You don’t need anything else added, and in fact, if you add something you’ve basically made the story about what you think it’s about. What if God wanted to talk to that child about something else? If you leave the story to do its work, it’s between God and the child. Just like a seed, it works secretly in the dark. You may not see it for years, and it’s almost none of our business. Our job is to bring the child the story, and then trust God.
Now of course, there are other ways to involve the child, but I would always say if you’re going to ask a question after a story, do more of an open ended question. Don’t do a leading question. Do something like, with the story of speaking of the 5,000, instead of saying, “Okay, so now we need to know that we have to share our lunch,” which is, yes, it’s good to share your lunch but that’s not why that story’s there.
If you go instead and you go, “You know what, I wonder what would happen if we gave Jesus everything we had? That little boy gave Jesus everything he had, and look what happened. I wonder what would happen if I gave Jesus everything I have?” Use it in whatever situation the child is in that day. If they’re going into school and they’re scared, “Well, I wonder if I gave God everything I am, everything I don’t have, what if I gave him all the things I’m scared of? What if I gave him the ways I feel terrified, and then trusted him, and then looked out in the day for what he might do with that?” I think that’s the way to lead children.
Carmen: Some of the wonder questions in my household are what next wondering. In the feeding of the 5,000, there’s often the wondering about what happened to the leftovers. There’s often wondering in the story where the prodigal son returns. There has been a lot of wondering in my house about breakfast the next day. Right? Did the elder son, did they all have breakfast the next day? How did they all live together after that? There’s this wonder about, how did God continue on in this story? How did this story unfold? I really appreciate the invitation that you consistently give to invite the adult to wonder together with the child as equal children.
Sally: Well, we’re all children before God, and I think in a situation like a devotional reading together, I think that’s the time you don’t have to be the teacher. There are obviously places that, parents have to give children rules and that’s all appropriate, but I think there needs to be a time when it’s not about rules. Just like, as an adult, when you go to your devotional or you read the Bible in the morning, you are not looking for a load of rules. We know, we need grace. I just want to say, so do children.
Yes, we need to guide them, but we need to make sure that they have times where we are extending to them the grace that we need, and we are just giving them strength for the day, and strength for the day doesn’t come from telling us all these rules, because the moral code never rescues us. It can’t. It leaves us in despair, and a child whose life is full of rules, all the more needs a moment when it’s not at about rules. When it’s not about, “Look, God loves you just the way you are, and He’s for you, and He’s cheering you on and He knows, and He loves you.” I mean, that will equip a child far more than if we kind of use a Bible story to scold them.
Carmen: I love it. Again, we’re talking with Sally Lloyd-Jones. We’re talking about her new book His Royal Highness King Baby: A Terrible True Story. It is a way of helping older siblings accept and receive the dramatic change that comes with the introduction of a new little person into their life.
Sally: A new king that kicks them off the throne. The thing about this book that’s so fantastic is the illustrations. I encourage anyone to just check it out on my website, because I work with so many great illustrators. He’s up there among the very top. It’s just, I love the fact … I mean, I’m an older sibling, so I remember. I have very vivid memories of how awful it was when my sister came along and how unfair, and “I’m the one who can read, and I’m the one who can do this,” and yet everyone’s paying attention to this blob that’s just arrived. I think if you can get children laughing about something that actually is quite traumatic, then you heal it, and it makes it less so.
Carmen: I love that.
Sally: I think that’s my hope for the book.
Carmen: Now, folks are very fascinated and interested by your own growing up and your own story. I know you are planning to share that this fall. Share with us the plan for sharing your story.
Sally: Yes, well it’s not actually this fall, but in a year’s time, fall 2018. Ellie Holcomb, who’s fantastic. If anyone doesn’t know her music, they need to get that music right away. Her new album is Red Sea Road, which there’s no dud on that album at all. Anyway, we went on tour this spring as an evening of stories and songs, where I tell my story where I was born in Africa, went to boarding school in England, and just how it all worked together to … God used all of that to get me to write the Jesus Storybook Bible. Ellie tells stories about her childhood and her children, and it all weaves together into this evening of worship, really. I’m going to be doing that and telling my story, and so I’d love people to keep in touch with me, sign up for my newsletter, because then I can announce to them where we’re going.
Carmen: All right friends, and you can do that at sallylloyd-jones.com. Again, you can connect with her there. You can check out the whole list of books that are available, and you can also keep up to date with how the story’s unfolding in your life and through Sally into the lives of our kids. All right Sally, if you could encourage parents to go beyond the Storybook Bible, is there a step you provide for them in the developing of their child’s relationship with God? An additional resource beyond the Storybook Bible that you would recommend to them today?
Sally: Absolutely, yes. We’ve done a follow up called Thoughts To Make Your Heart Sing, which is 101 very short devotional thoughts that you could read around the breakfast table. They’re short enough that it would keep the attention of a two year old. It’s also, every thought has an illustration by Jago.
I wrote that book because my niece was being bullied at school. She went from being a very vivacious little girl to very, very quiet and withdrawn. We found out she was being bullied, which is heartbreaking. I know a lot of parents understand and aunts and uncles and grandparents, we’re all devastated when we hear that. I asked her, “What do you read before you go into school?” She showed me what she was reading, and it was very, you know, it wasn’t really suitable for what she needed. It was all very, fill in the blanks and moralistic.
I thought, “I wish she had something that would tell her what God says about her instead of what the bullies are saying.” I wrote it for her, and I wrote it so that it would be beautiful. Jago’s art is so stunning. It’s like a jewel, and my vision for it was, it would be on the child’s bedside table and the parents would have to beg them to share it with them over breakfast. That’s funny enough, I think God gave me that vision, because that’s what I hear, is that the child wants it by their bedside table. I would recommend Thoughts To Make Your Heart Sing. It’s an easy way to do devotions without having to spend a long time, and it also opens it up to discussion, the illustrations as well as the text.
Carmen: Well, thank you for being a person who gives us thoughts that make our hearts sing. Thank you for equipping us as adults who very much want for our kids to know that they are loved of God and beloved, and for providing us resources that sort of allow us to be children with them, that we want to engage the story and reengage the story as well. Thank you for your story, thank you for sharing your story with us and with others.
Again folks, the website is sallylloyd-jones.com, and you can find all of the information there about her newest book, His Royal Highness King Baby, but you can also find information there about the other resources we’ve talked about today, the Jesus Storybook Bible and Thoughts To Make My Heart Sing, as well as information about her upcoming tour in the fall of 2018 with Ellie Holcomb. All right, thank you so much for joining us today on The Reconnect.
Sally: Thank you Carmen, it’s great to be here.