We need to get out more.
As we light their candles, the children say, “We belong to God.” We all do.
Wise words on being Christian in America from a former moderator of the Presbyterian General Assembly.
Children's Department of First Presbyterian Church Nashville
This Sunday – Palm Sunday – begins Holy Week in the life of Christians everywhere. Sometimes we as parents can struggle a little about how to engage our children in this story. Palm Sunday and Easter Sunday are no problem – they are both celebration days in the life of Jesus, easy to understand and share with young ones. But Maundy Thursday, with Jesus’ last supper with the disciples; Good Friday (awfully hard to explain that “good” moniker to children) and the story of Jesus’ death; the darkness of Holy Saturday – these can all be challenging to share with children. We know they’ll have questions: big questions. We have questions, too! Wouldn’t it be better to skip those middle holidays (“holy days”) and go straight from Sunday to Sunday, from celebration to celebration?
The wonderful Carolyn Brown, Christian educator extraordinaire, has a great post about sharing Holy Week with children. She posits that – far from shielding children from the ugliness of Jesus’ death – there is no light without darkness, no joy without pain. She has some wonderful ideas on how to share the whole story of Jesus’ death and resurrection with children. Go see.
I had lunch with a group of 4-year-olds this week, and the conversation turned to what they wanted to be when they grew up. One gregarious little girl announced to the table that she wanted to be a dentist; then her face clouded over and she said, “But I also want to be a gymnast. And a soccer coach.” One of her friends reached out and patted her arm reassuringly: “You can be all those things.” An earnest little boy sitting next to me with a shock of blond hair regarded me over his carrot stick. “I’m going to be a policeman AND an astronaut AND a ninja.” “A ninja, too? Wow,” I said. He nodded solemnly.
Part of me wonders when we stop believing we can be three things all at once.
One of the adults in the room asked the earnest little guy if his dad was still an actor (his father used to be on a TV show), and the child’s brow furrowed. “He’s not an actor. He’s a DAD.”
I wonder if children sense that grownups don’t believe in being more than one thing – a dad is quite enough, thank you, or a teacher or an actor or a pilot or a plumber. But another part of me – perhaps the deepest, knowing part – realizes that we grownups don’t ever stop believing we have to just choose one thing.
As parents, we want the world for our children: everything and more. We want wide-open opportunities, limitless choices for their futures, and the chance for them to be three or four or ten things. Do we show them that in our own lives? Do we model this open territory for them, this blueprint of freedom? How many things would your children say that you are?
Parent. Spouse. Professional. Enthusiast. Teacher. Learner. Child of God. ?
I have the opportunity to be another “thing” in my lifetime, as I have returned to graduate study to become a clinical mental health counselor for children. I am so grateful for the love, the learning, the joy, the support, the challenges, and the encouragement I have received as part of the children’s ministry here at FPC. And I am grateful to all of you for your partnership in this community and in this good work. (We may not be ninjas – but what we do is almost as cool.)
‘Ask, and it will be given to you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for bread, will give a stone? Or if the child asks for a fish, will give a snake? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven
give good things to those who ask him!
Last night FPC hosted 14 homeless men through Room in the Inn (RITI), as we do every Wednesday night, November – March. We pick our guests up from the downtown RITI campus, bring them here to FPC, and host them overnight. They share dinner and breakfast with us, have warm beds to sleep in, showers and laundry facilities if they want them, and a sack lunch to take along the next day.
Our FPC kids love to prepare for the RITI guests. Kids who never make up their own beds at home don’t bat an eye when we direct them to 14 bare mattresses and stacks of freshly laundered sheets and blankets and ask for volunteers to get cracking to make up the beds for our guests. Enthusiastic volunteers line up in the kitchen to fill lunch sacks assembly-line style with soft fruit, bags of chips, cookies, and sandwiches. The kids hover over the drinks-and-dessert table, eagerly offering every guest a beverage or a slice of cake – some multiple times! And afterwards there is nothing more exciting than stacking chairs and folding up the tables, collecting silverware and helping double-check the breakfast pastry for the morning.
Last night we had lots of kids – 15-20 – and the men seemed especially pleased to see them. (Sometimes, if we have a particularly enthusiastic and large crowd of children, our RITI guests look a little as if they might not want to get off the bus!) One man asked their ages, and he praised them lavishly for loving Jesus and doing His work in the world. When Mr. Hal, the FPC host for the evening, asked for a volunteer to bless the dinner food, another homeless man put his hand up. He spoke a beautiful and eloquent prayer, giving thanks for the blessing of a new day every day, and especially thanking God for the gift of children, asking that they would grow strong and true to love and be loved. It was such a selfless, tender, and giving prayer that there were many eyes blinking back tears in our group – such a reminder that Room in the Inn is a partnership, and we absolutely learn from and are blessed by each other, as we serve and are served by one another in relationship.
It can sometimes be a challenge for the grownups who are part of Serving Together to step back from the work that needs to get done to make room for their children to serve. Their natural inclination is to leap in to do it better or faster or just satisfy their own need to serve. Over the time I have spent in this ministry, I have learned that it is often just as important to make space for the grownups to serve; there are perhaps few, or inconvenient, opportunities for them to serve, especially alongside their children and families.
Last night a wonderful woman who serves in the FPC children’s ministry as a Sunday School teacher brought her family of six to RITI. She had wanted to come to a Serving Together event all year, but a busy life and schedule had made it too challenging thus far. So yesterday – on her birthday – as a birthday present, she asked for her whole family to come to Room in the Inn together and serve together as a family. They came early and stayed late and their kids – ages 3-10 – did every job, and so did she.
When we have eyes to see and ears to hear, blessings abound as we live and work and share with each other in community life.
All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had needs. Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. ~Acts 2:44-47
Borrowing thoughts from another wonderful blogger today: MaryAnn McKibben Dana, who blogs at The Blue Room.
She muses on the question, How do our kids know what our family values are unless we talk about them together, and write them down? Take a look at her thoughts (and those of others she shares) on writing a family mission statement.
Can mission statements be pointless wastes of time? Yes, they can. But not necessarily. I’ll admit it, I love the idea. The author quotes the Covey family mission statement:
“The mission of our family is to create a nurturing place of faith, order, truth, love, happiness, and relaxation, and to provide opportunity for each individual to become responsibly independent, and effectively interdependent, in order to serve worthy purposes in society.”
I had a range of reactions on reading this. On the one hand, I found the whole thing a little corny. It seemed cumbersome, heavy-handed, and a tad humorless. On the other hand, I kinda loved the idea. I’m corny! I also thought Covey’s idea captured something inherently true: How can we ask our children to uphold our family’s values if we never articulate what those values are?
This calls to mind some of the discussion going on in the church about teaching kids the Christian faith. For decades, we have relied on Sunday School and mid-week programs to do the job. But it’s the parents’ job, first and foremost. (Especially since the trend now is for “regular” attendees to come only a few times a month—we just don’t have time and wherewithal to the do it all at church.)
Finally we voted on a single statement (taken from a remark I made when they were born): “May our first word be adventure and our last word love.” Finally we added a series of ten statements: “We are travelers not tourists;” “We don’t like dilemmas; we like solutions.”
Or how about a family faith statement? Thank you John Vest!