Friday, September 23, 2011


Jason and I taught first-grade Sunday School for a year when we lived in Chicago. We didn't have Hadley, but we both love kids, and we thought: Really, how hard can it be?

Oh. My. Gosh.

One week, the toilet in the bathroom upstairs overflowed and water came gushing down one wall from the ceiling. I flagged down a well-intentioned adult (who clearly had not spent more than 2.5 seconds with anyone under the age of 12); he came into our room and announced, "Oh, the toilet upstairs must be leaking." Out loud. I spent the rest of the hour trying to get back to the lesson at hand. I failed. Every time there was a lull in the hysteria, one kid would scream, "Pee-pee water!" and they'd all start rolling on the floor again. I overheard a mom say to her son, "What did you learn in Sunday School?" He replied: "Pee-pee water can come through the walls!"

Potty humor: 1. Jason & Hilary: 0.

Then there was the day when we had to teach about the walls of Jericho falling down. The lesson plan called for the kids to make trumpets--a la the Israelites--and then march around the room. We had cardboard blocks we had stacked up in a small circle and while the kids marched around it, we knocked the blocks down.

If you've grown up hearing Bible stories--or even fragments of them, softened to be slightly more palatable--you can forget how hard they are. God flooded the world? God asked Abraham to do WHAT to Isaac? Mary and Joseph huddled in a stable when their son was born? Hard. Like life for most people in most of the world.

I'm not saying they shouldn't be taught. I'm just saying it's not as easy as making paper trumpets and a lot of noise. This particular story might appeal to kids because kids want things to fall down. I'm pretty sure that until you turn, say, 16, you are wired almost exclusively to knock things over. But the questions around this story are hard, as my little students quickly discovered: What happened to the people who lived in Jericho? Where the mommies and daddies there? Did kids cry when the walls fell down? If I can't hit my sister, why can grown-ups fight?

Touché, little people. Touché.

So after we marched around our little Jericho (so loudly I think the kindergarten Sunday School teacher in the next room gave me the evil eye for the next three months), I spent 20 minutes answering questions for which I still don't have good answers. Finally, I said "Let's play 'Jesus Loves Me' on your paper trumpets!" Because the other prevailing instinct in children is to make tremendous amounts of noise, it worked. But I learned an important lesson that day: Explaining God to children is a tremendously tough task because God is complicated. When we dig into Bible stories, it gets messy and it feels uncomfortable and we see images that are really, really hard to understand.

You know, like real life.

Fast-forward four years. One of my biggest anxieties about having a child was how I'd teach her about my faith when it includes a God who let the walls fall down on the mommies and daddies and kids at Jericho. (Or, you know, Jacob with his two wives, the first of whom he married because he got tricked by her father. I'm not sure I want Hadley watching Disney Princess movies because of the things they say about girls and women, but Disney's got nothin' on the Old Testament.)

So I can spend a lot of time in my head, worrying about these things, but for now, we're sticking with the basics: God made you. God loves you. God gives us good things, and we give thanks. And when it comes time to deal with the tougher stuff, we'll be honest and deal with it as a family. That's the only way I know how to do it.

Because of our year in first-grade Sunday School (where the parable about the mustard seed ended with a kid saying, "I like ketchup better"), I'm curious about what Hadley is learning about God, and I am encouraged by any sign that she's learning, no matter how tenuous those signs are. For example, Hadley is really interested in her Bible (perhaps because it's very big and she thinks that we'll read it all at once, thereby postponing bedtime indefinitely). Yesterday morning, we read about Mary and Joseph going to Bethlehem and Jesus being born there.

She was really into it. I was thinking, "This is so good!"

Not so fast.

Yesterday afternoon, the three of us were in the car and she said, out of the blue, "When it's Christmas, Santa will bring me presents for my birthday!"

And I said: "Actually, Christmas is Jesus' birthday."

And she replied, without missing a beat: "No, Mommy. I'm having a baby and it's Jesus in my tummy!"

So just to recap: Christmas is Hadley's birthday because she's pregnant with Jesus, who hasn't been born yet.

I've read a fair share of parenting books. I like to learn about child development. I babysat 10,000 hours when I was a teenager. None of it matters: I had no idea how to respond to Hadley. So I didn't. I ignored her comment until I looked over at Jason, who was shaking as he tried to contain his laughter. He failed and so did I, so now I'm pretty sure Hadley is going to repeat her special brand of blasphemy a million times in public places. So that will be awesome.

It was actually a great lesson in chilling out and having faith that Hadley will learn what she needs to learn when she needs to learn it. We're still responsible for her development in every way, but I don't have to sweat the small stuff so much. She's only two, and one day, she'll find this story funny, too.

And I bet if I ran into any of our old Sunday School students now, they wouldn't remember the pee-pee-water story or the ways their teachers wondered how to help them understand such big ideas as God's sovereignty, but perhaps they'd remember the way it sounds when a dozen six-year-olds make a joyful noise unto the Lord. With paper trumpets.


  1. This is hysterical. I love how I can hear your voice in your writing. :) Can't wait to see you! oxoxo