In Their Own Words

Our church has just begun using the Godly Play curriculum in Sunday School. It’s a wonderful program that invites children each week to encounter God’s story, to find themselves within that story, and to respond in worship. There’s a huge emphasis on allowing the children to wonder about and explore the stories; rather than telling the children how they ought to respond, they are given the freedom to encounter God in worship and be changed.

Each week, parents receive a handout with suggestions for following up on the week’s lesson. As I read Haley’s post last Wednesday on telling our children about Jesus in our own words, this exhortation from a recent parent page (excerpted from this GP volume) immediately popped into my mind:

Just listen. This is not a time to quiz children on what they may or may not recall about the lesson, but to be quietly present as they share their own experience. This will be different for each child – one may retell much of the presentation, another may recall a single moment that had meaning, and yet another will talk about his or her creative response. Again, your role is not to correct or supplement what your child tells you, but simply to listen in a supportive way. You are supporting the formation of young – sometimes very young – theologians.

This is really hard for me to do. I am an instructor by nature. Everything my daughter tells me, I want to add to, enrich, deepen, or correct. But like Haley pointed out: I’m not going to theologically educate my daughter into the Kingdom. Sometimes what she needs most is the space to experience God; to meet him and learn to express that experience in her own words; to be a free child of God, my sister in some important ways, who can also build me up on my own pilgrimage.

I can, of course, give her words to make sense of that experience; and it’s my responsibility to guide her, inform her, give her a solid Scriptural education, and so make it possible for her to build a sound theological understanding. But if that’s all I’m doing, I think I’m misunderstanding my God-given role in her life. Because it’s not, finally, to teach her. It’s not to give her all the right information. All of my “theological education” activities ultimately have to serve the one important thing: to usher her into the presence of her King and help her to know his saving love.

And sometimes that requires that I just quiet down. Listen. Try to understand how God is present to her. Try to believe that he is faithful. Trust that her experiences are authentic. That her language may not be sufficient to capture them, and that’s okay. Because honestly? Neither is mine.

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