Lately, my wife and I have been spending extra time with bedtime stories and prayers with our children. Our oldest is now 11, and we also have a 5 year old boy and a 3 year old girl.
I recently read an interview with an atheist philosopher, who has argued that the best way towards equality among all people is to ban families, and in the interview, he criticized families who read bedtime stories together as disadvantaging families who do not. He suggested families stop reading bedtime stories together. That’s progressive atheist logic if I’ve ever heard it.
Well, even before reading this article, we read stories together, but since going through a fairly difficult time, my wife and I have emphasized intentionally spending more quality time with our kids, as well as more intensely praying for them and our family unit.
I’ve begun to wonder if reading bedtime stories is a form of spiritual warfare.
Typically my wife or I will read one to three picture-books to appeal to both of our youngest children. They sleep in bunk beds, and one will be on the top bunk, and the other on the bottom, and I hold the book so they can both see the pictures as I read and partly act out the story. Even our oldest daughter comes in and lays down to hear the story as well.
I don’t know what it is about reading stories together as a family. It’s better than playing video games and watching Netflix. There are no screens, no sound effects, no distractions. It’s absolutely bonding and unifying.
I think it is a form of spiritual warfare.
And then I turn off the lights, and make up a story and tell them it. Sometimes I make it up on the fly, but it usually follows a predictable pattern.
Usually, the story involves a family with a girl, a little boy, and a baby girl, and a mommy and a daddy, and this family goes someplace to have an adventure.
The places they go include a nature preserve to feed the fish, a public swimming pool to swim, a church to learn about Jesus,a library to get books, or a park for a picnic and to play.
After the adventure, they come home, and then go to bed because they are so tired.
Anointing our Children with Oil
After the story time, my wife or I usually smear onto the children’s neck or feet a drop of essential oil that perhaps promotes good sleep. The oils we use can include lavender, cedar wood, or cyprus.
At or near the same time, one of us quietly speaks a little blessing or prayer over each child. In other words, we anoint our children with oil.
After the story, one or both kids sometimes express fears about the dark. Whether they do or not, I will speak a little prayer or blessing over each of them, usually with a kiss. The prayer I usually utter outloud is something like this:
Heavenly Father, I thank you for my son. I love him so much, just like You love us so much. I command anything that might scare my son away, in the name of Jesus. Father, I invite the Holy Spirit to come and provide rest and protection. I release God’s Kingdom over his life. I ask for good dreams and good sleep and love and peace. In Jesus’ name I pray. Amen.
It’s so cute to hear my son mutter, half asleep, “Amen”, with a smile on his face.
A New Fairy Tale
A few weeks ago, they asked for a new story, and I made it up on the fly. It’s mythic. Over the days, I noticed I was unintentionally changing the story, and it took on elements of spiritual warfare. Sometimes storytelling takes on a life of its own, you see.
This story involves adventure, danger and rescue. It’s a good story. Here is is:
One day, there was a princess girl, and a prince boy, and a baby princess girl. And the princess said, “Let’s go have a picnic in the forest!”
So what did they pack for their picnic?
That’s right! They packed food. And drinks. And dishes. And a blanket. And a ball to play with.
So they walked and they walked and they walked.
And they walked and they walked and they walked.
And they walked and they walked and they walked, all the way to the forest, so they could have their picnic.
And they put out the blanket and they ate and they ate and they ate,
and they ate and they ate and they ate,
and they ate and they ate and they ate, until they are all full.
But then they heard a noise in the forest. It was a growling loud noise.
Who was it?
That’s right, it was Grendel!
Out of the forest came a big, mean monster with green arms: Grendel! And he growled at them and he picked up the three children and ran with them deep into the forest.
And he ran and he ran and he ran.
And he ran and he ran and he ran.
And he ran and he ran and he ran, all the way to… where?
That’s right. His cave. It was a nasty, dirty wet cave, filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell.
And he put the three kids in the back of his cave. He was going to eat them later.
Well, guess what. The Daddy King and the Mommy Queen found out that Grendel came and stole their kids. So they were going to rescue them.
First, the Mommy Queen put on her armor. She put on a helmet with wings on it. And a breastplate of gold. And in one hand she had a big shield that also had wings on it, and in the other hand she had a giant spear like lightning.
So they got on their horses, and they… rode and they rode and they rode.
And they rode and they rode and they rode.
And they rode and they rode and they rode, all the way to the picnic area.
And they found Grendel’s tracks, so they followed the tracks into the woods until they came to …
That’s right! The cave.
The Daddy King and the Mommy Queen yelled, “Grendel! You come out here right now and bring our kids!”
And Grendel came out and growled, “They are my kids! I am going to eat them.”
And the Daddy King bopped Grendel in the nose, and Grendel yelled, “Ow!”
And then the Daddy King said, “Now, go away in the Name of Jesus!”
And Grendel yelled, “Oh no! Not the Name of Jesus!”
“Yes,” the Mommy Queen said, “Go away in the Name of Jesus!”
And Grendel started crying and he ran away, far away!
And the Daddy King and the Mommy Queen gathered the kids up, and they were so messy and they were hungry too. But they were so happy! And they put the kids on their horses, and they rode and they rode and they rode.
And they rode and they rode and they rode.
And they rode and they rode and they rode, all the way back to their castle.
And they ate a good dinner. And they got baths. And they got in their jammies. And they crawled into bed, because they were soooo tired, and then they fell asleep, happy to be safe at home.
Beowulf and Grendel
I admit, the English geek in me cracks up when I hear the kids retelling parts of this story. Hearing my 3 year old yell at “Grendel” is hilarious.
Of course, elements of this story are drawn from Beowulf, an ancient mythic poem in Old English. For many years, scholars studied Beowulf to learn about the history and culture that produced it, but my literary hero, JRR Tolkien, argued that the story should be studied as a story, on its own terms. His son recently released Tolkien’s prose translation and analysis of the story, which I have not read yet.
My wife teases the nerdiness in me for drawing on something we studied in high school English class our senior year.. something that bored her to tears. She gets that “you are so cute” endearing look when I try explaining why Beowulf is important and how Tolkien drew on the culture and mythic tradition of Beowulf for his own mythic sub-creation of Middle Earth. Yes. I have my geek-itude on.
Today, no one knows what kind of monster Grendel was supposed to be.
But I’m aware that Tolkien had a different view of what Grendel was. He described Grendel as “Satan’s hell spawn,” perhaps a giant creature that was a nebulous mixture, part demon and part animal. The mythic tradition of such creatures goes back to Genesis 6:1-4, especially the Book of Enoch’s take on the events leading up to the Great Flood, which in turn gave rise to Vampire and Werewolf legends. Ultimately that biblical account is all about spiritual warfare.
And while I’m not suggesting we interpret Beowulf that way, I always like to find Christian spiritual worldview elements in literature and stories, ancient or modern. Ultimately, myth is all about the intersection of the natural with the supernatural, and the Bible, as Tolkien suggested, is myth that is true.
Bedtime Stories and Spiritual Warfare
Healthy families are a good thing. There are many weapons arrayed against families remaining together and healthily so.
Do what you can to protect and defend your family and other families. Each act of love in defense of your family is, in effect, spiritual warfare.
One way is to read and make up good fairy stories for your kids. Doing so, especially incorporating spiritual elements in them, is a basic and powerful form of spiritual warfare. Do this and watch God’s dynamic rule and reign bring peace and joy to every aspect of your family’s life.