One of my greatest joys as a parent is daily reading aloud to my children – a practice I’ve maintained for more than 25 years. As eager, wide-eyed parents, my husband, Dana, and I began reading Winnie-the- Pooh to our oldest son, Judah, when he was just two months old, not because we thought he’d enjoy it, but because we did.
Over the following years, we read to Judah and his siblings – while homeschooling, while going through an international adoption, while grieving the loss of a daughter, while caring for my ailing mother, while packing up the home where we’d lived for 19 years and moving to the country, while beginning new jobs, while returning to school to further our educations. Through it all, books have been a steadying force that helped carry our family through all of the bumps and ruts of life, including now.
Most mornings before sending our two youngest children off to school, I open a book at the dining room table while they eat breakfast. Sometimes we get through a couple of paragraphs. Sometimes we get through a whole chapter. At night, before sending them off to bed, I aim to do the same. Reading gives us a reliable routine to open and close our days. It also gives us a tool for talking about them.
Over breakfast, we are currently reading Little Pilgrim’s Progress as written by Helen L. Taylor and illustrated by Joe Sutphin (Moody Publishers, 2021). Having previously read my older children a traditional version of John Bunyan’s 17th century Christian allegory, I was caught off guard by this version’s references to animals, rather than people, as the main characters.
Nevertheless, the illustrations are charming, and Bunyan’s insights into the struggles and dangers of Christian’s attempt to follow the King’s path on his journey toward the Celestial City, ring with much-needed truth for today. As our family has been watching and praying about the unfolding events in Ukraine. I am often tempted to despair. Ten million displaced people. Husbands and fathers living in warehouses, loading guns and digging trenches to defend their homes. The ever-looming threat of nuclear war. How do we process such events with our children?
I open a book. I read to my children about the Giant Despair who captures two small pilgrims who have wandered off the King’s path and are locked up in Doubting Castle. Despair tempts the wayward captives to end their lives. But one pilgrim, Hope, holds on.
“Just remember what a long way you have traveled and how many dangers you have been in,” Hope encourages Christian. “Let us trust in [the King] and wait a little longer.”
After earnestly praying, Christian remembers the Key of Promise, which lay in his pocket all along. Feeling their way carefully in the darkness, Christian and Hope use the key to unlock their prison door and escape, returning to the Way of the King.
When I read these words to my children, I am reminded not to despair. For while the future may be unknown to me, I can look back on the long way my family has traveled and of the many dangers God has brought us through, which gives me hope to keep going.
“No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind,” the apostle Paul wrote. “And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it” (I Corinthians 10:13 NIV).
So while earnestly praying about whatever situation tempts you to despair, trust in the King. Wait a little longer. And remember whose pilgrim you are, knowing that God’s promises still unlock prison doors.
Meadow Rue Merrill, author of the award-winning memoir, Redeeming Ruth, writes from a little house in the big woods of Midcoast Maine. She is also the author of the children’s picture book The Backward Easter Egg Hunt and four other books celebrating the holidays with activities that build children’s faith. Connect at www.meadowrue.com