The Power of Story During Hard Times
I am a big believer in teaching history through stories. A lecture, a history text, or a worksheet will not relay the human component of events that took place in history. But the story of real people and real events have a way of drawing children in and sticking with them for the rest of their lives.
History is not just a subject in school; it’s the story of our world, full of heroes and villains, battles and conquerors, beautiful ladies and love stories, castles, kings, peasants, martyrs, music, art, science and more. There is no end to what you could study and what you will learn by reading history, and yet it seems to be the most abhorred subject among school kids. I think it’s because it’s been watered down until it’s presented as a series of unconnected paragraphs that tell about a king here, a conqueror there, and a political upheaval now and then.
But a story that is told in entirety, in the context of world events, about the real lives of real people, their homes, families, food, clothes, culture, and their accomplishments is a story that makes you want to know more. It makes you want to know what happened next. It makes you want to know what their descendants did, and why. And since we have the hindsight of 6,000 years of history, we have the advantage of seeing the connections between people, countries, politics, economies, inventions, and civilizations.
The most important thing about knowing world history is being able to feel that we are a part of an ongoing story. We realize that there is nothing new under the sun, and that we are not alone. Mothers have been raising children for thousands of years; fathers have been working in one form or another to provide for their families; young men and women have been falling in love; Christians have experienced persecution over and over throughout the world; children have always played games; families have always gathered around a hot meal; mothers have always cried when their sons went off to war.
Without the long view of history, what courage can we muster? What hope do we have when history repeats itself? Because it will. If we were to find ourselves threatened with martyrdom for our faith, would we cower and bow? Or would we draw strength from knowing that we join a host of thousands — from the first century church to the modern day Christians under communist and Muslim rule? Even children are inspired to be courageous when they know what their ancestors did!
If our sons grow up and find themselves in a position to risk their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honors for the freedom of the next generation, would they be more likely to risk it all, knowing they follow in the footsteps of courageous men of history — like William Wallace or Patrick Henry?
Knowing what got us to this point makes an astounding difference in how we see our current circumstances. Americans are much more likely to uphold our founding principles when they have read about the struggle, the tears, the anger, the risks, and the blood spilled to give us this nation. Christians are inspired to look beyond the moment and declare their lives are God’s when they remember that Christians down through the ages have suffered ridicule, expulsion, and death for the sake of the Kingdom.
When we meet the people who made history, understand their core convictions, read the words they put down, and understand the age they lived in, we not only understand why they did their deeds, but we want to make sure it was worth it. We don’t want their lives to be for nothing.
There is nothing like the biographies of great Christians to give us perspective and help us to keep spiritual balance.
I have this passion for history because I have spent my life reading about the lives of people through the centuries, and have learned to understand what drove them. I read historical novels and understood the times of war and revolution. I read biographies and learned what made the great men and women. I read journals and diaries and saw the heart of the everyday man and woman. It has never been boring because real history is not boring! Textbooks are boring. The real story is anything but.
Here are some of my favorite stories of people throughout history who found themselves in the midst of terrible circumstances and lived to tell the tale.
The Autobiography of George Mueller
Mueller tells his own story of running an orphanage on complete faith in God. With little income to provide for many hungry mouths, he prayed daily and was answered daily, sometimes with just enough food or money for that day. His story is a wonderful testimony to Matthew 6:31-34.
“After the Lord has tried our faith, he, in the love of His heart, gives us an abundance. For the glory of His name and for trial of our faith, He allows us to be poor and then graciously supplies our needs.”
― George Muller
The Hiding Place by Corrie ten Boom
I hope you are already aware of this story, but if not, now is a great time to get acquainted with Ms. ten Boom. Hers is the true story of her family’s faithfulness to hide Jews in Amsterdam during the Nazi occupation, and their subsequent arrest and imprisonment. Corrie and her family suffered mightily at the hands of the Nazis, and she survived to share the story. Her testimony is amazing.
I know that the experiences of our lives, when we let God use them, become the mysterious and perfect preparation for the work he will give us to do. ”
Corrie ten Boom
The Long Winter by Laura Ingalls Wilder
This is the 6th book in Laura’s series about her pioneer life, and it is the miraculous and exciting tale of an entire town being stranded on the prairie due to constant blizzards for more than 6 months. Despite the absence of supply trains, fresh meat, and firewood, the Ingalls family (and everyone in the town) survived this very difficult winter. They ate very little, and had to make firewood from straw, but they persevered.
“It can’t beat us!” Pa said.
“Can’t it, Pa?” Laura asked stupidly.
“No,” said Pa. “It’s got to quit sometime and we don’t. It can’t lick us. We won’t give up.”
Then Laura felt a warmth inside her. It was very small but it was strong. It was steady, like a tiny light in the dark, and it burned very low but no winds could make it flicker because it would not give up.”
― Laura Ingalls Wilder, The Long Winter
The Dragon and the Raven by G. A. Henty
Imagine your country is constantly attacked and ravaged by Vikings. You never know when or where they will strike. All you know is that they kill, steal, and destroy. For hundreds of years, the English people suffered this exact fate. In the Dragon and the Raven, you will read the true story of King Alfred and his heroic reign during some of the worst Viking raids on England. Henty does a wonderful job of blending factual events with a fictional boy hero to tell this powerful story.
“For in prosperity a man is often puffed up with pride, whereas tribulations chasten and humble him through suffering and sorrow. In the midst of prosperity the mind is elated, and in prosperity a man forgets himself; in hardship he is forced to reflect on himself, even though he be unwilling. In prosperity a man often destroys the good he has done; amidst difficulties he often repairs what he long since did in the way of wickedness.”
― King Alfred
Tortured for Christ by Richard Wurmbrand
Reverend Richard Wurmbrand suffered 14 years of imprisonment in communist Romania. His communist captors lied to his wife, saying he was dead. Yet, by God’s grace he escaped, to tell the world the truth about Christians persecuted for their belief in Jesus Christ.
“Persecution has always produced a better Christian—a witnessing Christian, a soul-winning Christian. Communist persecution has backfired and produced serious, dedicated Christians such as are rarely seen in free lands. These people cannot understand how anyone can be a Christian and not want to win every soul they meet.”
― Richard Wurmbrand
There are literally hundreds more great books like these. You will likely discover them as you read with your kids. Point out the difficulty the characters meet, and how they handle it. Discuss faith in God, suffering, and the outcome. Look for these stories in real life, too. You probably know people who have suffered greatly in one way or another, and have either become bitter and useless or stronger in their faith. Let these lessons guide your children.
What stories would you add to this list?