The church building was filled with a wild, flurry of activity and with the sounds of excited children from the community who gathered for Christ’s Lutheran Church’s annual Vacation Bible School. Parents completed registration forms while children received colorful bandanas. The music was loudly playing in the background as a few teenagers, who had volunteered to lead the opening, herded the kids into the wooden pews. And then, a father quietly walked to the registration table with Maria. “I’m not sure how this is going to work,” he said, “but I, at least, want to give it a try.”
Maria’s mother had been murdered several weeks earlier.
One of the first things people want to do when they hear news like that is make it all better. Maria was instantly surrounded by several adults who volunteered to give her special attention. People began to ask the pastor how they should handle the situation and what they should say. And the pastor quickly responded, “We need to begin by realizing that we can’t fix what happened in Maria’s life. All that we can do is welcome her, help her to make some friends and let God do whatever God wants to do while she spends time here.” And, although that advice appeared to be insightful, it just didn’t seem to work.
Maria sat in a corner of a room – in total silence – for three long days.
The pastor banged out some tunes on his banjo and introduced Nancy, a woman from the congregation who had volunteered to be a teacher. Today was the day to talk about the story of Abraham and Sarah; but, before the story-time began, that pastor picked-up a few small pieces of wood that had symbols placed upon them with a blue, permanent marker. “These are called Listening Stones,” the pastor explained, “and we’re going to use them as a way to think about how all of the characters in the stories that I’m going to tell this week felt deep inside.” “Can any of you guess what this Listening Stone would tells us about how someone feels?” he asked. And one of the children said, “That stone is about feeling happy!” Some of the stones expressed sadness, confusion, anger, feeling lost, knowing the right thing to do, and being torn in two different directions. And it really didn’t matter! All that mattered was what the children thought the stone was trying to convey. There weren’t any right or wrong answers!
We talked about the fact that Abraham and Sarah were probably sad because they hadn’t had any children, and we talked about how happy they must have felt when God told Abraham that he would be given a son. We talked about Moses being scared when he was told to go back to Egypt, and about the Israelites feeling confused when they first saw the manna in the wilderness. We used the stones to explore feelings that characters in the story experienced and we placed the stones in order as we told the stories – so that that children could use the stones to retell the story in their own words.
And then, on the fourth day, while we were talking about the story of Jonah, the children picked-up the stone that contained a great, big frown and I asked the children to tell me why they picked that particular stone to describe how Jonah felt when God decided the God didn’t want to destroy Ninevah.
Maria instantly raised her hand….
“I think that Jonah was mad because he wanted God to kill the people who were bad.” Some of the teachers in the back of the room were startled. “When people do bad things and hurt people that they don’t even know, God should just kill them – just like God should kill the people who killed my mother!”
A window was opened. Maria moved forward and participated in the conversation that the other children were having. She helped to retell the story of Jonah and the great, big fish that swallowed him, and she was drawn into a Biblical story that could help her to better understand herself.
Listening Stones can help young children to name the elephant in the room!
And today, isn’t that what parents need to encourage their children to do? Children can’t always wrap words around their feelings and emotions, and they don’t often experience a specific time to let people know what’s happening inside of them. Children and teenagers become silent when they are bullied at school. Children can’t always express what they are feeling when someone dies. How can we expect young children to express their deepest thoughts and emotions when adults struggle to do it? What we need is a tool. What we need is a window into each other’s hearts. Sometimes, what parents need to do is just sit down on the floor with a set of Listening Stones and ask their child to simply pick one of the stones that describes their day – and then, ask the child “Why did you pick that one?” – and listen.
Christ’s Lutheran Church decided to invite each child to make a set of Listening Stones that they could take home with them at the Family Night this year. Parents and children came from everywhere! In fact, we enjoyed the largest gathering of parents and children that the teachers and volunteers had ever seen at a Family Night during Vacation Bible School.
Listening Stones are a powerful tool that can help children to express their emotions more easily and that can help to encourage parents and children to communicate more freely and more openly. And if you’d like to learn more, please click here to go to a YouTube video that will tell you even more.
To learn more about Christ’s Lutheran Church: CLICK HERE