I sit on the bench — always the same one. Not because it has to be, but because I learned a long time ago that I can concentrate better if I always sit at the same place. But it isn’t MY bench, or OUR bench, it’s just the place we sit when it’s available — and it ususally is.
Earlier this week, I had spoken to my neighbor about the three children coming to Sunday School. They were very interested, and it was because of their interest that I had them over on Thursday night. I felt like I needed to know them a little better, have somewhat of a relationship with them before “setting sail” on a Sunday morning. Most of my interaction has been with their Mom, and because of her willingness to give life details, I have felt like I knew these children somewhat — even though I hadn’t really had much personal time with them.
On Thursday night, we had about two and a half hours together. We played games, baked cookies and I read to them. They were hungry for hugs, very responsive to suggestions, and NOISY. And BUSY. And HUNGRY. And so incredibly precious. And they really, really wanted to go to Sunday School.
So we made arrangements to pick them up. This morning, while I finished last minute Sunday morning things, Certain Man went down the road to retrieve the children. While he was gone, I started to think about what big mess we were into now. And I thought again about this man I married — and his willingness to be inconvenienced for Jesus’ sake. Especially when it comes to children. There are a great many men out there who would be disgruntled, peevish or would even forbid the kinds of involvement that we often find ourselves in. But he has almost never been anything but supportive, encouraging, and affirming. I really do have a husband who is one in a million.
So he cheerfully went off, retrieved the three kids and came back home to load up ladies and his scatterbrained wife and we got to church on time (for a change!).
Sunday school went well. I continue to love teaching this class — which today included two of the three we had brought along. I was pretty sure that class would be okay — there is plenty of activity, moving around, things to occupy heads and hands and no one is too quiet, at least in the basement class where we meet. But then Sunday School was over, and the church family that meets at the corner of Canterbury and Carpenter Bridge Roads does not have any separate provision for children during the sermon.
So here we all were, on the bench, and Certain Man was bringing the message. I got out my Bible and notebook so I could take notes, as is my custom. I love these Sunday morning times and have a strong commitment to not only staying awake, but listening carefully enough so as to have some insights to carry with me. Except that this morning, there was no spare time for taking notes. I watched distractedly while there were stickers and notebooks and markings and whisperings and thumpings and munchings on anything that was remotely edible. From the standpoint of having extra children in the church, it was wonderful. It was an answer to my prayers. It was so exciting.
But there was something else going on in my heart. It has been many a year since I have had a row of children that I was more or less responsible for. And all through the sermon, there was a conflict waging in the battlefield of my soul. You see, I have come to enjoy my quiet bench. I like just “blending in” and having the freedom to think and pray and take notes and just be my own (selfish) self. This bench was a radical difference. And I am all for settling kids down and teaching them proper church manners and how to behave, but I also know these things take time. And the issue cannot be forced. Too often children have been made to conform to certain standards of behavior so that a church is satisfied, and the result has been temporary acceptability, but a damaged concept of what it is that God really wants of them.
And so I look at the faces of these kids, and realize that so much more is being caught than taught right now. And if I am going to be frustrated and impatient and even resentful, they are certainly going to catch that. So what do I do with this dilemma?
I don’t know. But I know that God cares about this. He loves these kids. It is no accident that they are a part of our lives in this time, in this place, in this way. And so, I intend to ask Him for the answers. For wisdom. For creative ideas in how to keep them excited and enthusiastic and COMING. And for creative ideas in harnessing the energy, directing the hearts and minds towards things eternal (they are not too young for this!) and for the patience I (and all of us in our complacency) will need. In the past, I’ve made the mistake of thinking that the children that rode to Sunday School in the Yutzy Van were somehow our “property” to maintain in the church family. The years, and some heartbreaking failures have shown me how wrong that mindset is. It’s important for there to be a family that is their primary support/contact and authority, if you will, but it is imperative that these children form relationships within the church family that they look forward to exploring and expanding and enjoying. Friendships with other children. Exchanges with trustworthy adults. All things that can help to point them to a God who wants to be an integral, vital, living part of their lives.
It’s a big order. And inconvenient. And it doesn’t feel very “comfortable” or “tidy” or even “safe.”
And that bench that has been so quiet and peaceful and somewhat orderly will just have to embrace the change.
As will the graying grandma who likes to sit there.