“What kind of robes are we talking?”
My 9-year-old’s eyes are wide and earnest as she looks up from her cinnamon roll to ask the question. We’ve found a table in the crowded café, plopped our Bibles and journals down, and waited patiently for our order. Now we begin what we came to do: study Esther, over treats, together.
Like you, I deeply desire to help my children love the Word of God. Their salvation is in His hands; I know I can’t guarantee anything. But I want to give them all the support I can. That includes facilitating delight-filled, imaginative interactions with the Bible.
The Bible is a big, beautiful, strange old book (or technically, collection of books) that I’ve been reading my whole life. Fresh entry points are always welcome. This morning, my daughter and I are using three approaches to fully appreciate the Bible: we are reading it in a relational context, engaging our physical senses, and bringing our own questions to the text.
Hence, the robes.
When I ask, “Before we read, what questions do we have?” my daughter’s hunger for detail surprises me. What were the royal robes made of? Did they dye them? How many advisors did ancient kings have? What kind of foods did they eat at all those feasts? Before we even enter the text, we take time to wonder.
Wrapping frosting-sticky fingers round a stubby pencil, my daughter writes a list of our questions.
Now, these weren’t the questions I’d expected. Like the book nerd I am, I thought we’d be asking about theme, character, setting, and plot. I do sneak a couple of those questions onto our list. I also add, “What do we learn about God here?”
But it’s crucial to start with my daughter’s questions rather than mine. Using a child’s own questions grants them a more personal sense of connection to the text. This is a technique lifted straight from literacy education called questioning the text. The basic premise is that a reader asking questions is a reader paying attention.
Questions are not the only thing getting attention. As we make our list, the cinnamon bun, in all its fragrant delectability, disappears. “How sweet are Your words to my taste – sweeter than honey in my mouth!” Psalm 119:103 exclaims. Why not make it literal? I want my people to have a visceral sense of God’s goodness.
Christ does too. In every account of his life, we see Jesus fully engaging his followers’ senses. He physically touches the sick and the dead. He changes water into delicious wine. See him there on the shore grilling fish for his friends’ breakfast? Hear the crashing thud of tables and the jingle of spilled coin as He righteously rages outside the temple? God is in a body. This changes everything.
As we involve our kids’ senses in Bible study, it might be as simple as cuddling while retelling the gospel. It might be as elaborate as crafting an authentic Egyptian feast like Joseph would have enjoyed – emmer wheat bread and tigernut towers, anyone? Maybe as we meditate on Christ’s burial, we get hold of some frankincense and myrrh oils to smell. Or, discussing David’s life, we listen to the haunting tones of a psalm sung in ancient Hebrew. Or, as my daughter and I do now, we roll through images of Persian scrolls illustrating royal attire circa 483 BC.
(In case you were wondering: Flowy. Drapey. Lots of layers. Funny little hats shaped exactly, and I mean exactly, like half a croissant.)
Our research gallops along, spurred by a shared curiosity. Together we’re learning things we didn’t know about Esther’s story, the sprawling empire in which she found herself, and the unpredictable drunkard to whom her future seemed hitched. My daughter and I venture, not as teacher and student but as fellow adventurers side by side, into the dense, lush unknown.
We are not just engaging our questions and our senses. We are engaging each other.
This communal element is so crucial to digging into the Bible with our kids. Especially for 8-12 year-olds, whose social skills are expanding in nuance and complexity. Scripture comes alive within relationship. As Shara Drimalla writes, “If we do not read as a community…we miss reading the Bible as it was designed to be read. Solo-only Bible reading often (tragically) distorts or entirely misses what God is saying.”
In our culture we’ve heavily emphasized personal devotions, private “quiet times,” and the priesthood of each believer. But something unique and necessary happens when we read the Word together.
Shared Bible study doesn’t have to be as formal as our coffee date. It can pop up in regular life – a conversation on the way to basketball practice, a chat with a Christian neighbor about what they’re hearing from God. Sometimes we’ll get together with another family from school, our own mini haverim, to read a chapter of the Bible over sandwiches before the kids dash off to play. As the social fabric becomes more and more central to a tween’s experience, we can weave spiritual conversations seamlessly into that fabric.
Meanwhile, back in the coffee shop, we have eaten our treats. We have Googled Persian robes. We have taken turns reading aloud the first bit of Esther, giggling at the emperor and all his advisors quaking in their little croissant hats over one woman’s act of agency. My daughter darts over to look at some funny greeting cards displayed on the café shelves. She’s done. I guess our Bible time is over for the day?
But I hope as her day goes on, all our questions and sensory experience and social connection will make God’s story extra sticky for her. I pray she comes to be utterly captivated by the Word – not just today, but always.
Featured image by Jess Eng on atlasobscura.com
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