"Do you like your blanket?" I asked.
"Yeah." (It was hard to make out Thomas' response since two-fifths of his lovey was actually in his mouth at the time.)
"Do you like to sleep with your blanket?" (This question asked by the mom who spends the last twenty minutes of every day searching for Blankey so Thomas can actually go to bed.)
I figured our conversation was on a roll by now, so I kept it up. "Who made your blanket for you?" Now Thomas sees his auntie several times a week. She tucks him into bed with Blankey while Phillip and I are leading youth group. She talks to him about crocheting his blanket while he was still swimming around and having a blast in my uterus. Thomas knows where Blankey came from.
But when I asked him who made his blanket, Thomas scrunched up his face, pondered painfully for a moment, and answered tentatively, "Did God?"
I gushed. My toddler was thinking about God! He got the answer totally wrong, but he was thinking about God!
On other occasions, however, I've tried to spiritualize things with my kids and my plans backfire. My oldest son Nate is a huge super-hero fan, so at his birthday party we came up with several games to reflect his passion for Marvel comic books and VeggieTale's League of Incredible Vegetables. At one point we played a game of super-hero trivia. I asked the kids a question and they had to shout out the answer as loud as they could.
After a few warm-up rounds, I had this great idea to Christianize matters, so I asked, "Who's the biggest, strongest, best hero in all of history?" I thought my stress on the word history would be enough of a hint, especially after I repeated the question twice. Some kids did pick up my cue and replied, "God." My birthday boy, however, jumped up on the couch, ninja kicked the air, and bellowed out his answer:
Yes, I blushed. Not so much because my son didn't get the "right" response, but because I had so shamelessly fished for a Sunday school answer.
I'm not against Sunday school answers per se, but I get upset when I see them replace deeper discipleship. We tell our kids to forgive each other because the Bible tells us to. That's all fine and good, but are we preparing them to understand how difficult it might be to forgive someone down the road who leaves their souls brutally scarred? Or are we just teaching them to mumble a few words so Mom gets off their back?
We teach teens in our our youth groups that if they want to grow in their spiritual walks they should pray and read the Bible. We teach them that if they want to resist temptation they should pray and read the Bible. We teach them that if they want to discern God's will for their lives they should ... you guessed it! Pray and read the Bible. Is it possible that our teens are ready for a little more meat, and a little less spoon-feeding? Is it possible that we can teach teens the importance of spiritual practices (all of them) without using specific disciplines as a cure-all for whatever trials they face in their Christian lives?
I want my relationship with Christ to go beyond pre-programmed Sunday school answers. If a friend of mine is deeply hurting, do I tell her I'll be praying for her just because I don't know what else to say? Or am I prepared to delve with her into the deep woundedness of her spirit and anoint her with the healing power of heartfelt intercession? When a friend is confused and broken because God allowed a horrific tragedy to strike, am I going to just tell her that "God has a plan?" Or am I going to pour myself out trying to love her?
I love the Bible. And I believe it contains everything we need for comfort, healing, growth, and discipleship. But I also know that the Bible can't be summed up in two or three of our favorite cliches. Life is messy. The Christian walk is hard. Sometimes we need more than pre-programmed Christian responses.
After all, not many of us are as strong as the Hulk.
What about you? Have your kids ever surprised you with their Sunday school answers (or lack thereof)? How do you encourage those around you to go deeper than automatic "Christianese" responses? (Feel free to leave your comments below.)