It is becoming increasingly difficult for me to sit through a service in church for many reasons I have stated on this blog previously, but specifically last Sunday I was concerned about the fact that neither of my two children wished to attend their Sunday school groups. They have refused to do so for quite some time now. My son has language processing difficulties, and so I can imagine that an hour of listening to someone talk about Bible verses and God is probably going in one ear and straight out of the other. My daughter who is quite spiritual for her age, rightly feels an aversion to a scoring system that rewards a child for remembering scripture and offers them incentives and little treats in order to get them to comply with the leaders’ wishes to fulfill various tasks, such as remembering to bring their Bible in every Sunday.
I recently raised the issue with two of the leaders in my daughter’s group only to be told that this reward system does indeed work with most children as they respond well to the promise of a reward if they do what is expected of them. And my immediate thought to that was: “well of course they do. Who in their right mind wouldn’t?” But that is not how I want my children brought up in the faith. I want them to cling to God like they used to cling to me when they were babies and needed sustenance, not out of a sense of duty or seeking to be recompensed for a job well done, but in the spirit of grace and because there is longing within them to have a personal experience of who God is, without which their life will never feel whole. Do I believe this can be achieved through the type of tactics carried out in many Sunday school groups today? Quite frankly, NO! And so I am happy to have my children sit with me during a Sunday service. In fact, I prefer it to them being taught by people whom in some cases I barely know anything about. Forcing a child to do something which clearly they perceive as wrong, uncomfortable and unfair only harbours resentment and a bigger aversion to religion than other children may experience as they become teenagers. We have grown very accustomed in this day and age to expect someone else to educate our children with regards to who God is and what Christianity is, when in actual fact it should be us parents who primarily, and I would dare to say solely, should not so much teach our children about Jesus Christ, but ensure that our life is coherent with those principles, truths and revelations which we would like them to have and believe. My children’s faith will stand the test of time and trials, if its foundation rests on mirroring and emulating perhaps their parents’ behaviour in the bad times as well as the good. It is up to us parents to nurture that faith seed, to encourage it to grow not by offering rewards, praise or false promises, but by simply living in a manner which honours the God we say we believe in and expect them to believe in too.
This is a massive deal for us as parents, particularly for me, as I am the one who spends the majority of the time with them, and the one who is often asked the difficult questions by them and is more aware of the fears, temptations and challenges each of our children face. Because it is a massive deal, I have given this a lot of thought and prayer, and it took a lot of courage and thinking to actually bring my concerns up with the Sunday school leaders. And so having shared these and encountered a bit of a dead-end in terms of their response, my feeble mind began to wonder whether I had got it wrong, whether my instincts where off the mark.
A few days later and by complete chance, I came across a book I was not looking for or even knew existed. This has happened to me on many, many occasions. I finish reading something and immediately another book which happens to describe pretty accurately where I am spiritually gets put in front of me as if with a magic wand. And so it was on this occasion, feeling remorseful about my discussion with the Sunday school leaders, that this particular book fell on my lap. It is called “So you don’t want to go to church anymore” by Wayne Jacobsen and Dave Coleman. This is an amazingly refreshing and candid book which seeks to help us find an authentic relationship with Christ above and beyond all else we may do with our “religion”. It is a gem, a precious stone, a shining star, a beacon of light in the murky waters of Christian literature today.
The two main characters are John and Jake, who is a pastor at a church. They are discussing of all things the reward system used in Sunday school at that church to get children to do those things expected of them, and to behave and act in the manner expected of them in order to be perceived as “good Christian children”. They are talking about how the rewards given to a girl called Sherri have potentially become the source of hurt for a boy called Benji who normally sits during the Sunday school session with a distant look not really engaging in what is going on (for reasons to do with family issues which I have not got time to go into here). I don’t know which bit I felt the touch of God in my life more profoundly through: this book that had just come into my life or the fact that the very issue that was tearing me apart at the time would be the subject of a whole chapter in this book, and even the mention of a little boy who could easily fit the description of my own son. I was absolutely astounded by how very personal the God who has created the earth and the heavens can be and often is. I felt so loved by Jesus at that very instant, I just sobbed as I realised that He knows everything about me, all my worries and anxieties, but most of all my heart. He cares so deeply and He comes to the rescue when I need Him most.
To be continued in Part 2