Life after Sunday School

16-6-5-jesus-loves-me-this-i-knowMy three-year old daughter came home from a Sunday School class recently.

“God loves me. Jesus loves me. God sent his son,” she declared, if a little woodenly.

I smiled and agreed. It’s comforting to hear those words from one’s child. But I wondered at the same time, what does that mean to a three-year old?

On one hand, it means everything. Mom and Dad love me. My brother and sisters and grandparents love me. Of course “God” loves me! Of course “Jesus” loves me! Of course “God” wants to give me wonderful things — who wouldn’t??

This kind of childlike trust and acceptance is after all, exactly what Jesus said he wants.

“Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” ~ Matthew 18:3

But on the other hand, it doesn’t mean very much! According to famous psychologist Jean Piaget, a three-year old inhabits the illogical Pre-Operational Stage of Development and will for several years to come. It won’t be until she is approximately 12 years old that she’ll be able to begin to grasp abstract ideas, such as an invisible but real God. It will be many years after that that she’ll begin to grasp through experience what true, unconditional love and sacrifice are.

So basically, at this point, Sunday School is indoctrination. Indoctrination that some say will serve the purpose of planting a seed — but which I hope will be one of many factors nurturing the seed planted already — divinely — there. (“Indoctrination” has come to refer to a religious environment that does not allow the learner to question or criticise beliefs — but originally, it meant simply to teach.)

But in order to develop a deep spiritual life and a faith that will survive the unavoidable storms of life, my daughter will need to progress past Sunday School to wrestle honestly with her hopes, doubts and questions about the reality of a dark, dying world bathed brightly in the healing, transformative light of an eternally loving God.

Unfortunately, it’s not a given. Many adults never do progress past Sunday School — past rudimentary, exclusive Christian belief — and spend their lives justifying why they are more “holy” and beloved than others because they act, or do not act, in certain ways.

I know I’m not alone in having believed once that I needed to earn love and acceptance — from my parents, the people around me, and from God. It was never true. I was always loved and accepted for my true self. My parents tried vehemently to warn me against certain life choices purely because they loved me and did not wish to see me hurt. And they felt my pain when I was hurt.

As a parent now, I understand that. I also try vehemently to warn my children against destructive life choices. And I feel every ounce of their pain.

So does God. But, just like a good parent, he doesn’t walk off the field when we make poor choices anyway. He walks with us.

I came late to my ten-year old son’s football game recently, to see that his team was, once again, significantly behind the other. Tears leapt to my eyes, and certainly not because I was disappointed in the score, but because somehow seeing him losing only highlighted the strength of my love for him.

It was a powerful moment, and I feel that in those moments, we catch glimpses of how God feels about humanity. We feel his joy at our successes, his sorrow in our pain, his quiet, steadfast presence in our loneliness and abandonment.

What I felt in that moment was how much God loves us when we are losing.

There is nothing more transformative than seeing that we are loved when we don’t deserve it.

To him, we are not losing, but growing. And to him, there is no deserving it.

So lose sometimes, dear one — but grow! Allow some of your false exterior, the one we all carry, to be sloughed off as you see that yes…

God loves you. Jesus loves you. God sent his son. 

For always. No matter what. Without condition.

This, you can never lose.

~ by Jeannine Buntrock




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