A few years ago, I found myself sitting in the sanctuary of my church, wearing all black, mourning for the sudden and shocking death of a beloved man in our church family. This man had not only been a dear presence in my life in Birmingham, but had sung next to my daddy in the church choir in my home church in Memphis. His daughter babysat me, and his wife had sat at our table with my mother. It was the deepest blow of an already hard year.
As people filed in, the room became flooded with familiar faces, friends both new and old. My childhood piano teacher sat a few seats away from my childhood pastor. A few rows over sat some of my mother’s best friends that had prayed for me since the cradle. But there was one face in the group that I couldn’t name, but, for the life of me, I knew. I peered at her soft, worn face and knew somewhere deep within, “that woman loved me.” I leaned over to my piano teacher and asked the lady’s name. Judy Pepper. Lovely, but a mystery still.
A later phone call to my mother revealed that this lady had been my Sunday School teacher when I was only three. The catch is, she moved the following year, so I had never seen her since. And yet, when I saw her face, I was struck with the peace and safety I felt in her presence. I felt known, and I felt loved.
I’ve worked with children for years, but this was a watershed moment for me in my approach to serving the little ones in my life. As a mother of four, the last thing I want to do most days is to be responsible for more children, more instruction, or more uncontainable energy. The Sunday school lesson plans, the songs for children’s choir, the catechism questions often have seemed like more on my plate than I really want to swallow. But that day of brokenness breathed new life into my heart for the little ones around me.
You see, I don’t have any great wisdom to impart. My Bible knowledge is elementary at best, and too many times I’ve had to answer questions with “just wait- we’re going to cover that next week!” followed by me frantically searching for the answer before the next lesson. From preschool music, to nursery, to Sunday school and catechism, I’ve covered a lot of ground, but out of all these lessons, I don’t care if they remember a thing. There are two things I want the children in my care to take away: Mrs. Lindsey loves Jesus. And Mrs. Lindsey loves me.
I’ve been in the church long enough to know that chances are, I will cross paths with these students even after they’ve moved off to college. I’ll run into them at weddings, spy them across the room at conferences and worship services, and sit down the row from them at funerals. And when they see me then, I hope they remember not the lessons, but the love. I hope they feel at home knowing I’m just a few feet away, and that they feel connected to God’s kingdom when they see a familiar face from so many years ago.
You see, just like the heart of the Gospel, teaching children is not about religious instruction; it’s about relationship. I love the Bible. I love the Grand Story that we’re all caught up in, but most of all I love the Family and am in awe that I have a seat at the Lord’s table with saints across the ages. It’s that sense of belonging, the knowledge that I have been adopted through grace into a family, that keeps me coming back. The teaching I give and receive is my family history and the creed of my people. And these kids are God’s people – and my people, too.
Image: selection from “Sunday School on the Prairie,” by Alfredo Rodriguez