Every Sunday, the pastor at our church does a very brave thing: he talks to the children for a few minutes and somehow relays the message he will be preaching about in a way that they can understand. One Sunday, he put up his hand to show a way to pray: each finger representing a different person to pray for.
Here’s how that lesson played out in our home:
During breakfast, Harper put down her spoon and held up her hand so her thumb was touching her chest. She then bowed her head as Hadley and I watched, chewing on our Cheerios. She kept her head bowed and I figured she was looking at her belly button so I started talking to Hadley.
“You guys, SSHHH!” she said, “I’m praying!”
“What are you praying about?” we asked.
“I’m praying about myself.”
“Myself! I’m praying about myself! Look at my thumb!”
“Oh, right,” Hadley said, “That’s the finger you use when you pray for yourself.” She then went on to talk about each finger and what they represented. That’s nice, I thought.
And then she got to the middle finger. “We need to pray for the strong people – the police officers, fire fighters, the mayor, the president,” Hadley told us.
“I’m just going to pray for myself,” Harper said.
“Do you know what else this finger is for?” Hadley asked with a smile.
“Eat your cereal,” I said, not wanting to discuss the great ability of the communication finger.
I’m not as good at finding the right words to teach biblical concepts to my kids as our pastor is. Once, after a long, long, LONG day, I was giving the girls a bath and Harper smacked Hadley in the head for what seemed like no reason at all. I took a breath to tell Harper to stop it but before I did, Hadley smacked her back so on my exhale I screamed, “Hadley!” (Kids move fast, you just gotta keep breathing and hope one of the words you say gets them to stop whatever it is they’re doing.)
“What?” she said, annoyed.
“What are you doing?”
“I’m hitting Harper in the back.”
“You shouldn’t do that.”
“She did it to me.”
“Well,” I said and here’s where my brilliance comes in, “do unto others as you would have them do to you!” I screamed it, really.
Without missing a beat Hadley says, “Well, Harper must’ve wanted me to smack her so I’m doin’ unto her what she did to me.”
I had no comeback so I started washing the girls’ hair.
And then there’s the conversations we have over the Bible stories. We read from Bible Stories For Children retold by Geoffrey Horn, the Bible my brother and I read to when we were kids. In fact, it has a note on the inside cover with my address on it, and a “Please return to Callie Rebekah Lewis if you find this.” Because, it was likely I would be toting this thing around the neighborhood and leaving it somewhere. I liked to pack it along with my quarters for super ropes and fireballs and my pool pass.
When we read the story about Elijah going up to Heaven in a chariot of fire, I put down the Bible and said, “Isn’t that such a nice story?”
Hadley asked, “Why is that nice?”
“Because God came to get him. That’s so nice.”
“Mom,” Hadley said, putting her hand on my shoulder, “Elijah died.”
“No! He didn’t die. He got to go to Heaven without dying. That’s so nice.”
“No he didn’t.”
“Is he coming back?”
“I don’t think so.”
“Mom, that’s dying. Elijah died.”
And then there’s Harper who is concerned about every minor character in the story – the other people at the party for the Prodigal Son, who the other women were at the party when King Ahasuerus wanted Vashti to come out and show everyone how pretty she was, the name of the animals in the stable where Jesus was born, and finally, the guy who got his ear cut off by Peter. She was really concerned about him.
The night we had a conversation about him, the Bible was open to the next story, the one where Peter denies Jesus three times, but the guy with his hurt ear was on the opposite page and Harper wanted to talk about him.
“Did Jesus fix his ear?”
I told her that yes, Jesus fixed his ear.
“So he can hear again?”
“Yes, I think he can hear again.”
“Well, wait. This happened a long time ago so he’s probably dead now but anyway, can he hear in Heaven? He’s in Heaven right?”
I told her that I think he can hear in Heaven and began to read about Peter saying he didn’t know Jesus.
“Did Peter say he didn’t know Jesus because he cut off that guy’s ear? Was he afraid?”
I said I thought Peter was afraid.
“But Jesus fixed that guy’s ear, so Peter didn’t need to be afraid. It’s OK.”
I told Harper she was right.
“Peter shouldn’t have cut that guy’s ear off. That was really mean and anyway what’s that guy’s name?”
I told Harper I didn’t know what his name was, and we continued to read on because that’s all I knew to do; continue with this crazy mysterious story.
I’ve always been most concerned about Judas when it comes to that point in the story, but now I can’t get the guy with the ear injury out of my head. Maybe that’s what’s brave about what my pastor does each Sunday: telling a story over and over again to new ears and allowing the story to soar in new ways.