Eugene Peterson was a Presbyterian minister, scholar, theologian, author, poet, and storyteller. Eugene passed away in 2018, but his books and sermons will continue to challenge and encourage so many of us in our walks with Jesus. I am one of the multitude that has benefited from Peterson’s masterful way with words. Every time I pick up one of his books, I walk away changed. He will probably be most remembered for The Message translation of the Bible where he sought to keep the language of Scripture relevant and understandable to its contemporary audience. But there is one book that goes under the radar when it comes to Eugene’s vast library of published books.
It’s a children’s book. It’s a bedtime story that he would tell his grandchildren. And it’s probably his only book that contained pictures! The Christmas Troll is a treasure that needs to be uncovered.
Within the pages of Eugene’s children’s book, we meet an angry six-year-old boy named Andrew who has decided to run away from home. Andrew is frustrated with his parents because they won’t let him open any presents before Christmas morning because “gifts are for giving and receiving, not for grabbing and getting”. With his little sister, Lindsay, in hand, the two head off into the woods for an adventure of a lifetime.
In the deep, dark woods, Andrew and Lindsay run into a troll whom they find is ugly but nice. It is in this ridiculous troll that Andrew is reminded that sometimes God’s best gifts are the most unexpected. As the sibling’s return home, Andrew’s attitude has changed because of his surprise encounter with a friendly troll.
The book ends with Andrew and Lindsay wondering if the first Christmas might have been “ugly but nice” like their own Christmas encounter that flipped their worlds upside down.
In an interview with Max Lucado, Eugene Peterson shared the “why” behind his Christmas tale:
“Stories are the only kind of language that children are really interested in (and many adults too!). And to tell the truth, I wasn’t trying to communicate a “spiritual truth.” All I was doing in the story was gathering together the stuff of my grandkids’ lives—Jonathan, the woods, the Andrew/Lindsay relationship, Christmas—for some bedtime amusement. The “truth” was inherent in the story, not imposed on it.”
These are the type of stories that I want my children to encounter. Stories that are inherently filled with truth. Stories that ring true because of who God has created us to be. Stories that paint a picture of the Gospel with both the ugly and beautiful brush.
So…thank you, Eugene, for telling a story about a troll. Your beloved book will be pulled down from our bookshelf every Christmas to refocus our family as we “live life expectantly, alert to the surprises of God”.