Friday, October 7, 2011

Fill-in-the-Blank Friday: Like a Child

I still haven't figured out what I want to do with Friday blogs, so for now it's kind of like "whatever I want to write about Wednesday."  I'm open to suggestions if you have any...unless your suggestion is Fish Stick Friday, because I kind of hate fish sticks, and a blog series on them would stink more than they do.

So last night I was looking over a Bible lesson I'm supposed to be teaching to kids today.  I must admit, I'm just a little bit nervous about teaching this lesson.  It's not that I don't teach kids stories from the Bible.  It's not that I don't teach kids about God.  I like teaching small kids about God, Jesus, the Bible.  Sometimes I'm even good at it.  But this situation is a little different.

I'm going to be teaching school aged kids, not preschoolers. 

Some people don't see that there's a lot of difference in younger kids and just a little bit older kids.  But there is.  Especially for someone like me, who isn't technically a teacher.  I don't really have good teaching skills.  I had a professor in college who, for some reason, thought I was a natural teacher, and it always frustrated our relationship because I knew that deep down (and also on the surface), teaching just isn't one of my very special gifts.  I'm reminded of this every time I try to help one of the kids I watch with her homework.  Just this week I was looking at a very simple math problem (a story problem) that was stumping the 7th grader.  I knew how to solve it.  I even knew the answer.  But when I tried to explain it to her, I had no idea how.  I stumbled over words for a few minutes, and then I just said, "You're supposed to divide."  She said, "But I need to write an algebraic equation."  I said, "Well, I have no idea how they want you to do that, but just divide, because that will get you the right answer."  And I think I would have liked math a lot better and done a lot better in math if they had simplified it.  It seems to me that they make it as complicated as possible in order to try to explain the theories behind it.  I don't need the theories to know how to do it.  I just need to know how to solve it as simply as possible.  And now that my brain has developed a little more, I'm actually seeing some things that my math teachers were trying to explain to me, only as a kid it all confused me.  I'm wondering if I would have grasped stuff earlier if they hadn't made it complicated.

And I think the reason I am able to teach and actually like teaching preschoolers is because it's easier for me to talk to them.  Maybe I'm just more on their level or something.  And maybe that's not a bad thing.

When I teach preschoolers, I teach things I have a solid grip on, like colors, or numbers, or letters, or what a kitty cat says.  When I teach preschoolers about God and the Bible, it's also about things I have (or should have) a solid grip on, like "Jesus loves us," and "We don't have to be afraid.  We can trust God because He is strong and He loves us," and "God wants us to be kind and love one another."  I've never really attempted to teach anything much deeper than some basic principles and truths.

But the more I started thinking about it, the more I realize that it's the preschoolers that actually understand those basic truths.  They might have a little trouble putting those truths into practice (don't we all?), but most of the preschoolers I know have a lot to say when I ask them about Jesus.  They can recite Bible stories, but they also know that God is good, that God loves them.  Sometimes, on rare, blessed occasions, preschoolers can even apply some of the truths they've learned--by sharing a toy because they know it's what Jesus would want them to do, by singing a song about how big God is when they feel afraid.  These are the moments I just cherish.

More often than not, though, young kids have trouble looking beyond themselves.  They're not necessarily selfish; they're self-centered.  They are still figuring out that the world is made up of other people who have feelings that are just as valid as theirs.  So it's hard to share; it's hard to remember to be kind; it's even harder to rise above such base emotions as fear and anger.  Let's face it--it's hard for adults to do those things.  But I think it might be harder for adults to do other things, too.

Most small children aren't going to question it when they hear that God loves them.  They might not be able to grasp the fullness that is God's love, and they're definitely not going to have any idea about how His love balances with His holiness (how many of us have more than just an inkling of a clue about that, anyway?).  Adults question.  Older kids question.  And questions aren't bad at all; they're a sign of maturity and growth.  I'd have issues with an adult "Christian" who never questioned their faith, because I firmly believe that one can't come to a firm faith without first questioning it.  And preschoolers question sometimes, too, but their questions are different. 

Preschoolers' questions are based on their understanding of the world as it applies to them.  If I told preschoolers a story about David and Goliath, they would probably get the idea that God protected David (and maybe even Israel), but their questions would be focused on the cool giant Goliath (How big was he?  How big was his sword?  Why did David cut off his head? Are there giants around today?  How come Mommy doesn't let me play with MY slingshot?).  They're honest questions from their little brains that have no idea how NOT to blurt out the first thing that comes into their minds.  But I've never heard a preschool aged child say, "Does Jesus really love me? Is God as strong as you said?"  Nope.  They get it.  They get that there's someone looking out for them.  They know that there's a God who is strong, who loves them. 

It's the grown-ups I know (including myself) that say or think things like, "How can God possibly get me through this situation? Does God even care? Is God even real?"  I get it that preschoolers pretty much believe what we tell them, but the Bible is full of stories that reveal a loving, strong God--preschoolers haven't learned how to doubt the Word of God yet.  So when I tell them a truth from the Bible, they take God at His Word.
In some ways, preschoolers grasp deeper truths than adults do.  These deeper truths are something some people try to make way too complicated.  But the deepest truths of Christianity aren't that complicated.  They're simple.  Most adults miss them, probably because we expect things to be complicated and like to make things complicated.  Grace, mercy, love, power, goodness, holiness--God isn't as complicated as we sometimes make Him out to be.  He's beyond our understanding, but little children don't worry about that.  They just know the simple things that elude the wise and learned.  It's enough for them.

And I'm very grateful God's given me opportunities to teach them...and learn from them.  He really is good.

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