Tuesday, March 14, 2017

A Last-Minute Lamentation; Articulations of Faith to a Child

I will never forget Holy Week of 2014. Our church family had lost one of our own to cancer, and his granddaughter was in our afterschool program. With a numb expression on her third-grade face, she sat in the circle awaiting the Easter story. The funeral had just been a few days ago. As I looked down at my legal pad, I immediately realized that the opening question of describing the sights, sounds, and feelings of a funeral was not going to fly. If I was not careful, this teaching moment could potentially paint an incorrect picture of the church for Jenny.

As you have surely done before, I prayerfully made a last-minute change to my plan and prayed for the best. I was careful not to minimize the importance of Christ’s sacrifice nor sugar-coat it. A gentle recap or an overview would be a gentle transition into the darkness that is the cross. Using our Action Bibles, the passages they had studied that semester came to light again. We spoke of how the entire Bible has been building up to this point. God wanted to be close to his creation and bring it back to him, so he sent his Son to live with us-as one of us. The kids shared ways that Jesus teaches us to have a close friendship with God.  The mild discussion led us to the fact that some of God’s creation will choose not to seek after him, which brought us to the trial and the cross.

I panned the circle to assure Jenny was doing ok then continued treading lightly, “More importantly than the cross, was the empty tomb.” [quick page turn to new pic] “With the empty tomb, we see that there is nothing that will keep us from God. Anything that stands in the way of our friendship with Christ-even death, will be defeated; and through the power of the cross, we too become conquerors in Christ. That is how very much God loves us and desires to bring his creation back to him.”

“How big was the tomb they buried Jesus in?” Sonja asked. Before I could even get a response out, Jenny dropped her face into her hands and began sobbing.

The vibe I was getting from her since she walked in was not to draw attention to her, and  I respected that. Now, the attention was on her, and only her. Not sure of my next move, I whispered a prayer. While wanting to comfort her, I wanted to do it in a way that respected her space. “Funerals are so hard, guys.” (Way to point out the obvious, Meg. Tell us, what color the sky is and while you’re at it-the grass?)

I mustered up the courage to continue, “ No matter whose funeral it is-they are hard. Jesus’ funeral was different than other funerals, though-”

I was interrupted by a young, overzealous theologian, “Because he was God’s son.”

“Yes.” I smiled and went on, “It was different because his funeral AND resurrection were used to teach us that nothing could keep us from a forever friendship with Christ-not even death. Jesus did come back to earth on Easter Sunday. This is very different than our human funerals. We will not see our loved ones again on earth.”

Jenny wiped her tears away and sniffled.  I resumed, “ But-we will see them again. In a different way, we will see them again. We will see them through every story and memory shared, and in a special place that Jesus has prepared for us-heaven. Just like God was at work throughout the cross and empty tomb, he is also at work at all the funerals of his children...even though it may not feel like it. While it may seem dark and sad during a funeral, joy is coming and we can say thank you to Jesus for that.”

Once the session was over, I asked Jenny if I could speak to her in private. I could tell that she still did not want to talk about it. I gave her the church-appropriate-side-hug, and said, “I am so very sorry about your Grandfather. And I also apologize if any part of this lesson was difficult for you today.”

I saw the faintest smile appear on her face.

“Thank you.” She said.

“We love you and your family so much at this church, and we pray you will feel the comfort of a giant hug from Jesus right now,” I said.

“Thanks.” She turned and walked down the hall.

These moments, during which we intuitively, and soundly articulate how the Holy Spirit is moving are monumental in the spiritual development of a child.  Your teammates must not only be able to teach biblically sound lessons, but they must also do their best to read the kids as well.

 It scares me to think of what would have happened had I not prayerfully altered the lesson. A “good” lesson could have been presented without me ever altering it on-the-spot. How would Jenny have felt about organized religion if I would have not sensed the internal and external factors at play for her as a learner? What would her takeaway have been if I was not equipped to offer up a theologically sound lesson on a whim? These. Moments. Matter. And we need to do everything in our power to assure that teammates are equipped with sound theology, and a high (enough) emotional quotient to “read the room”.

Stay tuned as we check out a cutting-edge idea in equipping one's ministry team to soundly articulate how the Holy Spirit is moving in the life of a troubled child. Be sure to subscribe to the right. 😁

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