“What are you doing today after church?” I asked Alice (not her real name). Alice is almost exactly the same age as my mother, and she and her husband, Tim, have taken me under their wing since I started going to our church a few years ago. Being a single gal with very little charisma, I don’t usually bother instigating plans for myself and other people. Mostly, I just jump on the bandwagon with whatever everybody else is doing. This means I invite myself places a lot. It’s a little embarrassing, but one of the great things about church people (at least the ones at my church) is that they never seem to mind.
“Tim and I are going to the beach right now. You should come!”
“Dang it. Can’t. I have to teach Sunday School second service, so no beach for me, I guess. . .”
At that moment, an older man and his wife were entering the sanctuary when the man paused and made a half turn towards me.
“You don’t have to teach Sunday School! You get to teach Sunday School!” he said, and then waltzed into the sanctuary with his wife as if he hadn’t just said the sharpest words I’d ever heard directed towards me in three years of going to The Bible Church.
Alice and I gasped at each other. Even though Alice has the appearance of being as buttoned-up a church lady as she can be, she has a vibrant sense of humor and a sort of innocent wicked streak, and she’s loyal as the day is long. She raised her eyebrows at the couple’s backs and then turned to me.
“I know you didn’t mean it that way. Sheesh! Some people, huh?”
“Well of course I didn’t mean it that way! I mean, of course I get to teach Sunday School! I just meant, I mean, I have to teach Sunday School because I’ve committed to teach it! I mean, aren’t there multiple meanings of the phrase, ‘have to’? ‘I’m committed to teach Sunday School.’ There, would that have been better? Sheesh!”
“You know,” Alice leaned toward me, “that was actually the former pastor of this church. He’s visiting this week.”
“Whoa. . .well, I’m glad I made such an awesome impression on the guy. . .”
Alice went to the beach with Tim, and I went to set up my classroom for Sunday School. But I couldn’t get what that guy had said out of my mind. I couldn’t figure out the right way to feel about it.
I toyed with guilt for a while. Yes. I’m a jerk. I act as though teaching Sunday School is this big ordeal, and I always speak way too brashly at church. . .I need to keep my mouth shut and be more cheerful in general. Guilt never works for me for very long, though. A pastor once told me that guilt is from the enemy, whereas conviction is from the Holy Spirit.
So I moved on to play with anger. I hadn’t spoken brashly. I’d just used language, like anyone else would, to explain that I couldn’t go to the beach with Alice. What a jerk! Where does he get off, giving me some kind of correction when he doesn’t even know me? See, this is why I don’t like old guys/pastors/churchy people. They think they know everything. But the thing is, I actually really do like old guys and pastors. And I am a churchy person, myself. And he hadn’t really been a jerk. And even if he had been a little bit of a jerk, I’m not a fan of anger, either. It’s hard to learn anything when your fists are clenched and your teeth are set on edge.
I decided to just forget about it. Except that I couldn’t. I can’t help it; I’m introspective to a fault, and I can’t take criticism of any kind without trying to make sense of it and make peace with it. And this pastor, with his terse little correction, had really gotten under my skin.
Had I really spoken out of the things I had stored up in my heart? How did I really view teaching Sunday School? Has it been a have to? Or has it been a get to?
I think I have to admit that I tend to look at service as something that’s kind of a bummer, but somebody has to do it, and in the case of Sunday School, that somebody might as well be me. I don’t have any kids or a husband that I get to go home to and fix lunch for after church (a fact about which God has been subjected to endless whining from me) and I’ve been a professional teacher for almost seven years. I can keep order in a classroom, and I can make sure kids learn something. I’ve heard my share of sermons on Paul’s explanation of celibacy in 1 Corinthians and how just because you are single doesn’t mean you get to just sit around doing whatever pleases you. So okay. I’ll teach Sunday School. I guess that’ll just be my cross to bear, because I’m single (do you even care, God? Does our church need Sunday School teachers that much, that I need to be 30 years old and still single?) and because I’m such a good, selfless person. Maybe if I do this awfully nice thing, God, You’ll finally be proud of me and notice me a little, hmmm? Not that I need that. I’m so humble and selfless I’ll do it for no recognition at all. But, You know, maybe You’ll see my Selfless Sunday School Service and realize that I’m really coming along, here, teaching these kids, and that’s when I’ll really get Your attention.
The trouble with this whole little charade of mine is that it reveals a very murky theology. The reality is that were God to speak to me, I think He would say something like this:
Alex. You’ve had my attention since the day you were conceived. Even before that, actually. Calm down. I love you so much I prepared a bunch of really cool stuff for you to do that you will enjoy the heck out of if you’ll only come to it with the right spirit.
The truth is that teaching Sunday School is an amazing blessing. If you come to it every Sunday, excited to see God working in the lives of young people, I guarantee you will be extraordinarily grateful for the opportunity to get a look at His beautiful story, happening in real time, right in front of you.
From all of my years of experience in the classroom, I already knew that the best way to learn something backwards and forwards is to teach it. How true that has been with Sunday School! In the past year I’ve learned about Shadrach, Meshach and Abednago, Paul’s travels in the book of Acts, the prophet Ezekiel, and countless other stories in the Bible. Some of these things, I have to admit, I had never heard of (I’ve only been a believer for three years). Some of them I knew about already, but never had any great insight into until I tried to explain them to a roundtable committee of 10-year-olds. . .most of whom had been Christian longer than I had!
Not only have I developed new and deeper understanding of His word, I have also developed meaningful relationships with a group of kids. These things take time and work, but what beautiful fruit they yield!
When I look at service as a gift from God, everything becomes brighter. When I know that His love for me is at full intensity no matter what I do, it makes me want to serve Him more. A trip to the beach can wait–I get to go teach Sunday School!