Sometimes, when I stop to think about writing for children, it seems ridiculous. How can anyone expect to take God’s huge truths and distill them into a few bite-sized words to fit into a children’s book? Of course, all Christian writers share this struggle. How do we share an idea, a message, or a world view that includes a piece of God’s story? How do we write in a way that connects with readers and helps them open to God in a new way?
Picture book writers in today’s market need to do this and to condense their idea down to about 500 words. Then they need to tell the story using only words that the youngest readers will understand.
How can any of us undertake such an audacious task? When God nudges us to do something impossible, we practice saying yes and step into it.
Was that a Nudge?
If you’re like me though, I often obey God like Gideon did.* I start with one trembling step, a step full of doubt. I don’t doubt God but I doubt myself. I ask: Did I hear You correctly? This path? Really? Me? Are You sure? Now? How will I know for sure?
I used to wait for confirmation that I’d heard perfectly before I took the first step. My natural bent is to fear doing the wrong thing and wait. I’d most often persevere and follow through, but I dreaded angering God as I asked Him to clarify. Again.
God used Gideon’s story to teach me about His gentleness. Gideon wasn’t rebellious, just unsure. This history of God’s gentleness is helping me learn to step out in trust. I’m growing to trust that if I hear God wrong but keep listening, He’s strong enough to gently redirect me as I step out. I’m learning to listen when God tells me as He told Gideon, “Go in the strength you have … Am I not sending you?”
God Orchestrates the Setup
I’ll get vulnerable and share one example of how this process worked for me. The idea for my first picture book came from yearnings and events converging. So much was coming at me that I needed to step away to hear God in this process of writing with Him. This was many years ago when my dad died.
The day had been busy with all the service preparations for my dad’s memorial service. As evening approached I felt exhaustion seep in. I stepped outside for a moment of quiet with my youngest child, my sweet one-year-old son on my hip. As I tried to imagine how far away my dad had gone, I looked up.
I tried to imagine heaven as I sat with the anguish of losing this godly man of integrity who had been my rock. I grieved the sense of security he’d always provided for us. He was gone, and I felt so inadequate to fill his shoes.
As I focused on the cerulean-blue sky, the first star appeared. I snuggled my son and pointed to it. “Look! One little night star.” He mimicked me and pointed too. As I looked back into the eyes of my child, I started sifting through the feelings of missing my dad. I realized that I wanted to pass on his wonderful sense of security to future generations.
I’d noticed one little star appearing in a vast evening sky. I recognized God as the One who held it there. And I recognized the sense of security that gave me as I missed my dad and held my son. Those were the big ideas that converged at that moment in my brain.
How do you translate these huge ideas to a 26-page spread for a picture book?
The Mysterious, Creative Part
The creative part of writing with God is the part that I find so difficult to put into words. How does God create with us? Or how do we partner with God to create?
One thing I’m still practicing is leaning in close to God. This takes the trust of a child. Like a toddler who wants every piece of his body connecting to his parent as he snuggles up to them on the couch. Shoulder to shoulder. Hip to hip. Thigh to thigh. Is there a half-inch of space? Let’s scooch closer. That’s the picture I hold in my mind as I attempt to write.
I’d never thought of writing for children until I lost my dad. Then my trust in God allowed me to lean into the pain. I recognized a deep longing—for my children to know that same sense of security. When a first line popped into my head and wouldn’t go away, I held onto it by writing it down. One little night star, twinkling in deep blue. Later that night, another line joined it, I run inside to take my bath, then there are two! When words or ideas won’t go away, and especially when they keep me awake, I’ve learned to write them down. They may or may not become something but at least I can sleep. Was God in this? I know He was creating with me in those moments.
The Waiting Part
Sixteen years later, the book sold. Yes, those years are another story, a story of waiting and struggling with God. I’ll share that story in another post. For now, I’ll say that God gently taught me about His love-filled timing for each dream He fulfills.
The Big Ideas Part
Kids and even parents might not see all the big ideas behind a little picture book. It’s an inadequate medium, as is all writing. I’m hoping that the simple story will give children a glimpse into the security of God’s love. I know that’s a lot to ask of a little book.
The world is complex and often difficult for kids. Who am I kidding? For adults too.
So, it’s not about bedtime routines and hugs and stars,
or never just those things,
it’s what they mean.
Someone’s FOR us and has our back.
This was the message I yearned to pass on.
Father, help us snuggle so close to You that we move when You move. Let Your gentle care seep into us when we’re uncertain of our path. Help us follow Your nudges one brave step at a time. Reassure us of Your call to write.
How do you recognize God’s nudges? What is God nudging you to do next in your writing? Share it here (or at least write it down for yourself), even if it seems audacious.