Why Suffering Adults Need Children’s Books – Quina Aragon

In my darkest seasons, I’ve found it nearly impossible to read through long treatises on the character and love of God (as wonderful as many of them are). But I’ve picked up children’s books and been warmed by their simple and beautiful reminders of the truth of God’s love for me. C. S. Lewis was right: “A children’s story which is enjoyed only by children is a bad children’s story.

And it’s suffering adults who especially need the ministry of children’s books. 

Fetal-Position Faith

Suffering can catch us off guard, causing us to react in surprising ways.

When trauma occurs or when we’re acutely stressed, the body seeks to protect itself from what it perceives as a life-threatening problem by guarding its vulnerable front organs (the heart, lungs, intestines) with the harder, more muscle-protected part of the body (the back). We curl into a fetal position. 

Our bodies’ natural response to threats reminds us of the inner child we all carry (and often try to bury), one that longs to be held, protected, and nurtured—like a baby in the womb. 

One of the many paradoxes of Christianity is that as we spiritually mature, we grow younger (Ps. 103:5; 2 Cor. 4:16). We grow less impressed with ourselves and more impressed with God. Thus Jesus told his disciples, “Unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 18:3).

Suffering has a way of reintroducing us to our spiritual fragility, leaving us in a fetal position. It tills the heart for a harvest of childlike humility and dependence. But it can also threaten spiritual drought. 

Fertilizing Our Imaginations

In those overwhelming seasons, we don’t need toxic cheeriness (“Don’t speak that negativity into your life”) or pious stoicism (“God is sovereign; you’ll be fine”), which both deny the excruciating realities of conflict and grief. (Try these trite platitudes on a child who has just scraped her knee; she will find them quite unsatisfactory.) 

In our pain, we need a break from the philosophizing of Job’s friends. Instead, we need literature that will fertilize what tends to erode over time—our childlike imaginations. 

Children’s books invite us into worlds where our growing cynicism is suffocated and our dying hope is renewed. They help us see life through a non-jaded lens, in which simple things like flowers, ants, and the sky are wonders worthy of marvel—wonders that cause us to marvel at God. Vibrant words and illustrations have a way of reminding us that the Creator who designed all things with excellence cares also for us—his “little children” (John 13:33).

Good children’s books free us to imagine when the unimaginable threatens our hope.

Whether in picture books or novels, children’s literature reminds us of spiritual realities we’ve studied and debated but not paused to enjoy. Their simplified poetry or prose help our emotionally fatigued hearts to slow down and revel in God’s willingness to condescend to our ash heap of dashed dreams with fresh ones.

They echo a greater reality, a better story—one that takes childlike, Word-informed faith to appreciate. Good children’s books free us to imagine when the unimaginable threatens our hope.

And they speak to us most profoundly when we’re in that fetal position.

Afraid of the Dark

Children’s literature also acknowledges an important reality: we’re all afraid of the dark. Though many of us may have outgrown our need for nightlights, we still fear the unknown, the unexpected, the lurking dangers of living in a dark and fallen world.

King David described himself as walking “through the valley of the shadow of death” (or “the valley of deep darkness”), where evil is feared because it can’t be seen (Ps. 23:4). Under the dark shadow of death and decay, we are vulnerable, exposed, and, it seems, alone.

Our imaginations run wild with what if and will the daylight come again?—just like my 5 year old who asks me to check for monsters in her closet before I turn off the light at bedtime. We’re not so unlike children, are we? Our fears are perhaps more sophisticated, but no less scary.

While bestowing dignity on our fearful hearts, children’s books show us—often rather than telling us—the value of friendship, mission, and God’s presence in the wilderness.

Good children’s literature presents conflict, grief, and fear with the sort of empathy we need but don’t always receive from grown-up books. Instead of telling us five ways to overcome fear, or five Bible verses to memorize, picture books speak of monsters and dragons and foggy forests. For adults these might represent financial insecurity, marital strain, past trauma, or other frightful predicaments.

While bestowing dignity on our fearful hearts, children’s books show us—often rather than telling us—the value of friendship, mission, and God’s presence in the wilderness.

When we fear the night-cloaked unknown, or when we’re in the dark night of the soul, we need children’s literature to teach us emotional honesty again, to suggest we’re not alone in our struggles, and to remind us of promises we know from God’s Word—“a lamp to [our] feet and a light to [our] path” (Ps. 119:105). 

Again and Again

Perhaps the most obvious reason suffering adults need good children’s books is that they don’t typically take that long to read. When our world is crumbling, our minds aren’t always sharp and nimble enough to read hefty theological books or even novels for adults. But children’s books are short enough for us to commit to without worry they’ll be another thing undone in our lives. 

Of course, we should remember that children are delightful little books from whom we can learn so much if we’re willing to look. What does any child beg, plead, and scream when you finish reading his favorite book to him? “Again! Again! One more time!” 

The best children’s books make us say the same. And we’re better for it.

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