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