Let Me Tell You About the Time. . .


Leanne Benfield Martin discusses why there is tremendous value in telling family stories.

“Tell me a story about when you were young, Mom.” Madeline, my daughter, wanted to hear about the fun I had playing cops and robbers with my childhood friend Johnny. Or how I struggled with reading at first. Or how I later learned to be friends with several girls instead of having just one best friend.

Years ago, I often asked the same thing of my mom. “Tell me a story about Crawfordville,” I’d say. A born storyteller, she could paint a picture of what growing up in a small town was like and make me long to be there too. I loved hearing her and Dad’s stories about themselves and our extended family, because it gave me a sense of who they were apart from me— and how I belonged to a greater whole of our family.

Throughout the Old Testament, God commanded the Israelites to tell stories to their children—stories about his faithfulness through the generations. He wanted them to remember what he’d done for them and understand that they were his people, set apart from the pagan nations around them. He wanted them to know and love him for who he was.

Remember and tell

Despite nine plagues that had already ravaged Egypt, Pharaoh said no for the tenth time to Yahweh’s call (through Moses) to let His people go free. So God gave the Israelites specific instructions on how to be spared the last plague. It was a pivotal moment in their history, for they would soon be leaving their enslavement behind—and the Lord told them in advance to celebrate the day from then on as a festival to Him. When their children and future generations would ask what the ceremony meant to them, they were to tell the story of Passover and how the Lord rescued them (Ex. 12:26-27).

Later, when His people were about to finally enter the Promised Land, God again told them to remember and hand down stories of His faithfulness. After He parted the flooded Jordan River (just as He had parted the Red Sea for them years before), the Lord commanded a representative from each of the 12 tribes to take a stone from the riverbed and build an altar on the shore. When their children would later ask what the monument meant, they were to tell the story of God’s miracle on their behalf (Josh. 4:6-7).

Telling our kids about the past can enrich the present and help shape their futures.

Inspired by this story, my sister Donna and her husband began collecting stones of their own. A few years later, she and her young daughter piled the stones in different flower beds in their family garden. When Leah asked what the rocks were for, Donna told her the biblical story and explained, “This pile is to thank God for healing you of seizures; this one is to remember how God has taken care of us while Daddy is out of work. Our rocks are sort of like a journal without words.”

“Cool!” Leah said. “Let’s call them our remembering rocks!”

Recently, I told my daughter Madeline that before she was born, God had blessed her dad and me with a baby who passed away through miscarriage. Surprised and awed that she had an older sibling in heaven, Madeline helped me choose a name for the baby, which I hadn’t done before. Remembering that baby made me thank God again for both my children.

When Madeline gets a little older, I’ll tell her stories of how God carried the two of us through the difficult years when I was a single mom. Her stepdad will tell her of his years of wandering and how the Lord eventually drew him back. Stories like these underscore God’s love and faithfulness to our family and enlarge my daughter’s understanding of our lives as well as her own.

Laugh and learn

Family stories can also be instructive. From my parents’ anecdotes, I learned what true friendship looks like; how to be content with what you have; how to be grateful for small things, like home-grown tomatoes in the summertime and oranges in your Christmas stocking; how to be a good neighbor; how to keep going even in the midst of great losses.

Some stories were funny too. I learned lessons like these: don’t jump off a barn, swear behind the smokehouse, or throw your pajamas up on the streetlight when your sister dares you to (all for obvious reasons!). My friend Don also grew up hearing funny family tales. One of his favorites: When a snake crawled up his great-uncle’s pant leg, the man “wound up pantless in front of God and everybody in the cotton field.” Looking back, Don says his family bonded through their laughter and these inside jokes that only they understood.

My friend Laurie says, “Our family tells stories as they fit into the conversation. It’s just part of being together.” In Deuteronomy 6:7, the Lord tells the Israelites to teach His commands to their children when at home, walking down the road, at night, in the morning. Similarly, we can tell family stories anytime—whether in the car, at the dinner table, during chores, or at bedtime. Telling our kids about the past can enrich the present and help shape their futures. It’s as easy as saying, “Let me tell you about the time...”

The article was selected from In Touch magazine.

 This post was written by Leanne Benfield Martin.


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