Friday, May 28, 2010

Teachers: Public and Sunday school

Last Sunday was Sunday school appreciation day at our church.

Recently on another post, I was ruminating with a cyber-friend about why and how people growing up in similar circumstances relate the different ways that they do. I still don't have a definitive answer, but it did get me to thinking about where my initial concept of God came from. And with Sunday school appreciation day so recently come, I thought I would post an appreciation for those who work with the very young.

I know that between the ages of one and four I lived with Grandma at least part of the time. I don't know the true time-line because my family is so full of secrets, but as best I can tell I spent most of that time at Grandma's house.

Grandma was a devout Southern Baptist, so it is a given that if I were living with her I was in church every Sunday from an early age. Not that I remember anything before the age of five, but I know that just based on the fact that my Grandma went to church every Sunday without fail.

Grandma also liked to tell one story from those early days about me in church. The story goes that when my Sunday school teacher shared with me that "God loved you soooo much! He even gave up his only Son just to have you in His family", I responded precociously, with an awed expression, "Isn't that amazing?"

I have no reason to doubt that is true, and I am extremely grateful to the teacher who put in my head from the start that God loved me. I wrote her a thank you note a few years back, but that doesn't begin to convey the depth of my gratitude.

The next person to really influence my young heart was my kindergarten teacher in public school. She read to us a story book at Halloween, Gus Was a Friendly Ghost. This turned out to be very fortuitous.

Fast forward to the second grade. My parents are in the middle of a nasty divorce. My next door neighbor invited me to an evening church service with her. I don't know why my twin sister didn't come, except that the next door neighbor was my best friend and my twin didn't always hang out with us.

The teacher of this class was the one who presented the gospel to me in terms that I was able to really grasp. She used flannel graphs, and I can still mentally image the heart. Next she put the throne on the heart, and the old man of sin on the throne. That's what makes us do the bad things we don't want to do. I didn't want to do bad things. I wanted to be a good person!

Next she told us that we could ask Jesus to sit on the throne of our heart. He would kick out the old man of sin and help us to do what's right. Plus he would never get angry with us if we slipped up and did something wrong again, but he would forgive us and help us go back to doing right. Sounded like a great deal to me. (Still does, actually.=)

But wait, there's more! God, who as I already knew was Jesus' father, would become my loving Father too! She told me that he was not like earthly fathers, who can be mean or leave us (she must have known about my parents' bitter divorce) but that He would always be good to me, always understand me, and no matter where I went He would be there too. Could this get any better?

Why yes, it could! Jesus would send the Holy Ghost to be with me always. Immediately my young mind conjured up a being very much like Gus the Ghost: friendly, strong, big, yet invisible. Sort of like a ghostly big brother. How cool is that?

Now I will lose some of my readers, because this was a charismatic gathering. She asked if she could lead me in a prayer, asking Jesus to be my Lord, God to be my Father, and to receive the Holy Ghost. Well heck yeah I did! She told me the Holy Ghost would give me a special language, like baby talk, and encouraged me to start babbling. That was awkward, but the rest was amazing!

God loved me! He was now my Forever Father, who would never be mean to me or abandon me. Jesus was going to sit on the throne of my heart, helping me to do what's right and forgiving me if I slipped up and did a wrong thing instead. And the Holy Ghost- big, cheerful, powerful, invisible friend- would be with me everywhere I went. Awesome.

I never went back to that church. My mom left my dad shortly after that and we moved to a small town in another state thousands of miles away. But God was still my Father, Jesus ruled in my heart, and the Holy Ghost was always near. These facts made the heartache and confusion of the changes in my family bearable. I was not alone, and I was not unloved. This I could now know for sure.

So thank you to all who work with the very young, and a loving reminder to please tread gently. You are laying a foundation in the hearts of children that their mental, emotional, and spiritual health will one day depend upon.

I am so grateful for each of the early teachers I remember being so instrumental in the formation of my faith. (Let's not forget author Susan Thayer as well, though I am sure forming my early impressions of the Holy Ghost were not on her mind when she started her Gus the Ghost series. ;-) I will never be able to thank them enough. God bless them every one, now and for eternity.

ps The converse is also true. Be sure that you do NOT offend one of these little ones! A grown woman in a twelve step meeting tearfully related that once when she had merely indulged in typical childish misbehavior, her kindergarten teacher showed her a crucifix on the wall and told her that every time she sinned she pushed the thorns deeper into Jesus' head. This grown woman was a guilt-ridden, anxious, broken-hearted person because of that kindergarten teacher's cruel manipulations. My own twin, far from the wonderful introduction to a loving good God that I had, walked the aisle in response to being terrorized by images of eternal damnation. Her mental image of the Christian god has always been a cruel, hateful being sort of like Jonathan Edward's insect-hating Eternal Being.

"Words are forever, when we speak we set them free, so watch your mouth and you be careful what you say to me.+ from Cup of Tea by the Newsboys


  1. As I am processing through my pain and fear that were the result of my fundy evangelical upbringing, it is great to hear a story of someone for whom the traditional Sunday School stories actually produced the response the storytellers were hoping: an experience of a loving God who cares deeply for every hurting soul.

    My understanding of the Christian God as taught by Sunday School was much more like your sisters'. It was only after I left Christianity and began to commit to the God I found in my mystic experiences that I could understand God as Love.

    It has been a challenge in my return to Christianity this last year to reconcile the loving God I came to trust as a heathen and the God I used to believe was Christian. Thanks for sharing your story--it helps a lot to see an instance when the institution of Christianity actually worked as advertised.

  2. My heart is grieved for my twin sister, you and all the QF daughters I have been reading from lately. It is a crime the guilt, shame and fear that teachers loaded on your tender hearts. May God forgive them. I can't. That is blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, in my opinion.

    Though I know on at least one occasion I used good old-fashioned guilt and manipulation to try to browbeat an audience into a religious response. May God forgive me! I did it because of pride, foolish spiritual pride, and I am without excuse.

    Thank God it was not with a young crowd. I was preaching to the choir, so to speak, and a small adult choir at that.

    I am reminded of the first verse in Romans chapter 2, how we are all guilty of the sins we see in others, to some extent. May I "do justly, love mercy and walk humbly with your (my)God" today.

    Be little today, self. He must increase, I must decrease. Peace to you Sandra! =)

  3. I also had some good early Sunday School teachers. Your Charismatic testimony in no way puts me off.

    I also am furious with those who paint God to be something He is not. The hatred and self-righteousness they have in their own hearts they have projected on God forgetting that, As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are His ways higher than ours.

    In fact, it was seeing women being browbeaten by "wives submit" and preachers sending women back to abusive husbands and the church taking the stance of, "You are abused? Oh, well, stinks to be you." Their haughty "I didn't say it, God did. So obey or burn," attitude finally pushed me over the edge and I had to speak out.

    My God is not a, "Stinks to be you" God. Nor is He an "Obey [abusive husbands, fathers, and/or church leadership] or burn" God. He's not that way to anyone, including women and children.

    He is abounding in lovingkindness and tendermercies. He is near to the broken-hearted and His ear is attentive to their prayers.
    May those who paint God to be an abusive father repent and flee the judgement they place themselves under.

  4. What an awesome story shadowspring!

    Mara: You go GIRL!

  5. I love that story, Shadowspring, especially about the Gus the Ghost bit... I'm always nervous about reading that type of story to children, but in your case God really used it.

    I used to teach SS when I was an older teenager - I was asked to do it, said I would consider it, and then it was announced that I was going to take over the kindergarten class. Oh well! I was a lousy teacher, IMO, never taking enough time to study the lesson or pray for the kids before Sundays, but I did TRY to keep the kids involved and interested and help them be kind to each other. I'll never forget the day I had 4 children and we had been doing the Christmas story. I was working up to telling the Gospel story again and the kids were coloring at the table. I quietly talked to one child again and went over what we had just learned about recieving Jesus - she was from a Christian home so probably had already prayed the prayer, but the other 3 had unchurched parents and I wanted to talk to each child separately - but I asked her if she had recieved Jesus ever and she said no, and I asked if she wanted to and she said yes. I was thrilled and started praying with her in a repeat after me way - this was all going on quietly, but all 3 of the others just voluntarily prayed with us! It is a thrill even thinking about it now. :-D

    Have any of you ladies ever read Too Small to Ignore by Wess Stafford, president of Compassion? It is a wonderful book!