Post Author: Kelsey Grissom
I am a pastor and the daughter of a pastor. I attended Sunday school, worship, and Bible studies for all of my growing-up years. I majored in Religion in college, and I have a Master of Divinity. I have taught and preached Bible stories to thousands of people across multiple congregations. But one night, as I sat on the couch listening to my husband, Lee, read a children’s Bible—Desmond Tutu’s Children of God: Storybook Bible—to our boys, the Bible surprised me in a way I had not expected.
If someone were to peek into our windows and watch us as we sit on that couch reading Bible stories together, we would look like an ideal American family, a picture of peace and virtue. But we are not most people’s version of an “ideal” family, and we are not always at peace—at least not right now. Our Bible time is a rare sanctuary in what often feels like a new and unstable world.
Lee and I, both previously divorced and each with a son from the first marriage, met, dated, and married in less than a year. The next several months were chaos: helping our two boys—who had always been “only” children—learn to live with another child, juggling the usual school and soccer schedules along with visitation schedules for their other parents, learning what a marriage looks like when you are awake at opposite times of the day (Lee works night shift), and realizing that family dynamics are far, far more complicated when no one was born into the family.
Somehow in the midst of all this chaos, Lee had the wherewithal to suggest buying a children’s Bible. Though I had lived and breathed the Bible my whole life, Lee and his son had limited knowledge of Bible stories. Lee thought it would help them to learn the Bible and to adjust to church life if he read the boys a Bible story each night. And maybe it would make for some quality family time as well.
Here I should confess that I anticipated gaining very little from hearing these stories read aloud. Despite how many times the Bible has surprised me in the past, yielding up unexpected meaning and new insights, I just didn’t think I would hear anything new in our night-time reading ritual.
As you have probably guessed, though, I was wrong. More often than not, I have found my eyes filling up with tears as I listen to stories I know so well—but have never heard this way before. In this context, in a family situation so foreign to how I grew up and what I have experienced, the old stories sound different. New themes emerge, and words that have been unimportant in the past suddenly stand out like trumpeted melodies.
How many times have I read or taught the story of Jacob’s ladder? In previous years I heard it as an imaginative tale of Jacob’s flight and vivid dream. But now Lee reads the words, “Jacob felt far away from his family and so very alone,” and I think about the two boys beside me, both of whom have to leave their moms to go visit dads, and vice versa. When they are homesick, feeling far away from their family, I hope they will remember Jacob’s story, and the revelation that God is with us even when we are absent from each other.
Or what of the story of Joseph and his brothers? In a culture that worships the intact, mom-dad-and-two-point-five-kids family, we are often pressured to view our “blended” family as just as cohesive and harmonious as a biological family. The Bible exerts no such pressure. In fact, the Bible paints vivid and honest pictures of the sharp edges of complex family systems. The Storybook begins the story of Joseph with his half-brothers sneering at him, “Daddy’s favorite!” and we read about their desire to kill Joseph based on their feelings of jealousy. For a child (or adult) experiencing the pangs of jealousy for parents’ and step-parents’ affection, the story of Joseph reveals that even these gripping feelings are valid and not too dark to be touched by God’s love.
Of course, we recently heard the story of Jesus, too. My boys get to hear that Jesus (Jesus!) had a step-dad, Joseph, who loved and protected a child who was not his own. What a comfort this is to children to hear that good stepparents exist (stepparents beyond Cinderella’s!) and that God often sends good people to take care of and protect children. What a comfort it is for us, as adults, as step-parents, to hear that Joseph got his share of “lip” from the step-kid too. (Is Jesus’s assertion that he was “in my Father’s house” the first recorded, ‘You’re not my real dad!’?) More seriously, it is a gift to see what an important role we stepparents can play in God’s plan, especially in an era that seems to have no use for “extra” parents.
I had heard all these stories, and more, before. But I had never heard them as a step-mom, a woman in new territory, trying desperately (and blindly) to make a home for four people who, in many ways, live such very disparate experiences. I thought that the “old, old story” would have nothing new for me, but I was wrong. I found in the Bible a friend—one willing to tell the truth about the human experience of family, and therefore a friend who’s able to share the good news: that even in the most complicated and difficult of human relationships, God is present and at work.
Kelsey Grissom is a United Methodist elder and the Associate Pastor at Asbury United Methodist Church in Birmingham, Alabama. She is also the Managing Editor at Fidelia's Sisters. Kelsey blogs at revkels.wordpress.com.
Image by: fudowakira0
Used with permission