Listening to the Right Voices


Eleven years ago I knew exactly what kind of parent I was going to be. I had decided what books my daughters would read, what songs they would love to sing and how I would handle difficult situations.

It turns out that life cares little for my theories.

The challenges facing our children seem to grow on a daily basis and the truth is that some days I go to bed feeling like every choice I made turned out to be the wrong one. It feels like the future is approaching at an ever-increasing pace, relentlessly mocking my naïve arrogance and tempting me to give in to the fear that I have not adequately prepared my daughters for what lies ahead.

For me, one of the most sobering moments in the entire Old Testament narrative is when the children of Israel discover that the land they are ready to conquer is inhabited by giants. Crippled by fear for the future of their children, the Israelites turn back and head for the wilderness. Every time I read it I wonder whether I would have acted any differently in their shoes. Honestly, I doubt it. Sometimes, when I look at the world around me, the temptation to retreat can be almost overwhelming.

It strikes me that the thing which swayed the Israelites more than any other was the voice they chose to listen to. All twelve of the spies saw the same thing when they looked at Canaan. Giants. Strongholds. Danger. The facts were inescapable.

Despite this, two very different stories were told that day. Two of the men painted a picture of a land that was fertile and ripe for harvest. So rich was the soil that it took two men to carry a single cluster of grapes. Yes, the men who lived there were big and yes, the battle would require courage, but the God of Israel was bigger and he had promised to fight for them.

The problem was that the voices telling the second story were louder. They told a tale of fortified cities and soldiers so big they made the Israelite army look like grasshoppers. As the story spread and their words took root, the images conjured in their minds struck fear into their hearts and turned their legs to jelly.

I don’t know what the future holds but I know there will be days when my children will stand in the long shadows of unwelcome giants. On those days, the story they listen to will make all the difference. I have a God-given responsibility to guide and nurture them and to lead them constantly to Him, however, I am beginning to realize that when I try to do it in isolation—determined to provide everything they need—I elevate myself beyond the truth of what I am. For a long time I have been utterly convinced by the importance of community. I know that we were not designed to make this journey on our own. When it comes to parenting, to my shame, I often forget this. I am so thankful for the people in our lives who are prepared to stand with my husband and I and add their voices to the story we are trying to tell—friends who, over the course of years, have taken the time to intentionally know and love our girls, enriching their lives in ways we never imagined and filling in the gaps when we fall short; grandparents who are faithful in prayer, surrounding them, protecting them and providing examples of faith that has endured through difficulty, struggle and the passage of time; teachers who give them good books to read, quietly stretching their minds and fanning their imaginations in the best ways; writers who write great stories which inspire courage and songs that stir up faith.

The truth is that my husband and I can never fully equip our daughters for the battles they will face; only God can do that. Our job is to keep telling the story. Over the past few weeks, this truth has been gaining momentum in my heart, bringing in its wake a welcome freedom. With the freedom comes a fresh determination not only to fill the lives of my children with voices that are telling the true story and telling it well, but to intentionally stand with my friends as they fight to raise their families in an increasingly hostile world.

Heidi Johnston is the author of Life in the Big Story and Choosing Love in a Broken World. She studied law at the University of Aberdeen in Scotland and now lives back home in Northern Ireland with her husband and two daughters. Heidi is passionate about getting people to engage with the Bible for themselves and has a fascination with the book of Deuteronomy.


  1. Chloe Mawhinney

    Beautiful words Heidi! I am so thankful for all the good voices I listened to growing up in Scrabo, and I know your girls will be too!

  2. Matthew

    Great words of wisdom Heidi. With each of my kids (I have four) I found more and more problems with myself, but it is so easy to focus on theirs. I’ve found that the only way I can lead is to be led by God, a life of constant prayer and study and community. The best thing we can pass on to our children is that they too will fail, but God will be victorious through all and He wants us to live a life of constant communion with Him.

  3. Cara Strickland

    This is lovely, and encouraging, Heidi.
    I’m not a parent, but I have the opportunity to tell stories: to children, to peers, to mentors and to myself, every day.
    I want to make sure I’m listening to good ones so that I can repeat them.

  4. Chris Whitler

    Thanks for this. Of course, I immediately think of my own kids and my own failings. I have also elevated myself beyond what I was made to be. It’s a matter of trust. Reminds me of that Keith Green lyric, “Keep doing your best, pray that it’s blest and Jesus takes care of the rest.”

    And then my thoughts are toward the many children (many in my own neighborhood) who do not have supporting families or communities around them. Here in my town, there is a major push from the faith based community for mentors in our public schools to come alongside children. The evidence suggests that even just ONE hour a week with a healthy adult can make a marked difference in a child’s life.

    And new studies come out all the time. A notable one here locally is that a child will likely be behind the rest of his life if he does not learn to read by the 3rd grade. Its sobering but the church can be the community that comes alongside these kids to help them read and to “read the right sort of books.” One good story can change your life.

  5. Laure Hittle

    This theme has been on my heart lately, too. Not for children of my own, but for my younger sister, who is brave enough to face the brokenness in the world but often bogs down in it and struggles with seeing the light and high beauty that is forever beyond the reach of shadow. She’s a nonfiction reader, and i (big sister that i am) am convinced that if she would read stories she would begin to regain hope. Hope is such a solid thing, more real than brokenness. i hope my own stories reinforce this truth in my readers.

    Chris, i appreciated your thoughts about the way a church community can aid literacy. As a church librarian, i am going to take that to heart.

  6. Heidi Johnston

    Chris, thanks for bringing a different (and very challenging) slant on this. Your perspective has given me lots to think about.

  7. Dave Bruno

    Really appreciated this Heidi. Leanne and I have been in a small group of friends for the past 17 years with three other couples. The 8 of us have seen 15 children born. It has been so good to grow alongside others and share the responsibility of being a godly adult in the lives of our children.

  8. Lisa

    We began our empty nest years this fall, and it is stunning to think that in many ways, my job as a parent is done. I am so thankful for my close friends who walked with me on that wonderful journey of parenthood and spoke different stories into my children’s lives when they were deaf to the ones I was telling them. I could not have done it without them. Thanks for this, Heidi, for this great reflection on one of the many ways the members of the Body of Christ can serve each other.

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