Last week I was a part of an amazing group of volunteers at our church that put on VBS (Vacation Bible School). I was the storyteller. The theme was Standing Strong. Each evening I told a different Bible story that emphasized an element of that theme.I had two helpers, together the three of us, interacted with over 80 children. We were animated. We were dramatic. We had a lot of fun.
However as I reflect back on the week I think I taught some bad theology and it’s making me really nervous and a little sick to the stomach.
Monday we reflected on the fact that God’s love helps us stand strong. Tuesday we learnt that family and friends help us stand strong. Queen Esther and her cousin, Mordecai, illustrated that particular truth. On Wednesday evening I dressed up in a wig and a moustache, pretending to be Nehemiah, whose life story still teaches that prayer helps us stand strong. The story of the death and resurrection of Jesus reinforced that trust in God helps us stand strong. And finally on Friday the eight year old king of ancient times, Josiah, showed us that the Word of God helps us stand strong.
But I don’t think it’s true.
All my life I’ve been told I need to be strong. I need to be ok. I need to muster my courage, bolster my energies and take on the world. All in God’s strength. Along the way I learned that I wasn’t really very strong but on days like that I quickly learned to fake it. I forced a bravery. I swallowed my limitations and I pretended. Imaginary strength, that I did not feel, allowed me to go through the motions, paste a smile over my grimace and do what needed to be done. On the inside I might have been wasting away, yet on the outside I looked like I was being renewed day by day.
That doesn’t sound right. How is that Standing Strong?
Children know their limitations. If they don’t know how to tie their shoes they admit it. If soccer isn’t their thing they seem to know it. If they can read really well but can’t seem to do math they understand that. How dare I stand in front of them and begin the bad brain washing? Of all the nerve, that I would put my hands on my hips, and say with a dramatic swagger that we’re to stand strong.
Here’s the truth…. we don’t need to be strong. In fact, Jesus invites the weak, the broken, the wounded. There is power in admitting our humanity. When we claim strength, we deceive ourselves. We break, we bruise, we burst. And it’s ok to not be ok. (I’m learning this slowly…)
I don’t want to be complicit in teaching the next generation that standing strong is the ticket. I want my children and their cohorts to understand, perhaps for the first time in all history, that our humanity is what draws Jesus to us. He created us! He’s crazy about us. It is so okay to be human. And being human means being weak and limited, bruised, battered, fragile and forlorn.
I want to redo VBS… I want us to get back to the Very Basic Stuff that makes the good news oh so good. I wish I could do it over again. I would tell those eager children that God’s love helps us admit our weaknesses and push into His strength. I would emphasize that we were created to live in community. Family and friends help each other. We can admit our needs and receive help and care from each other. There is strength in that! If I could do it all over again I’d still put on the goofy wig and the sticky moustache but I’d accentuate that the gift of prayer helps us push into our friendship with God, it gives us a safe place to be honest with what we’re feeling, what we’re thinking, how tired we are. We can “come to (him)….(when we are) weary and carry heavy burdens, and (he) will give us rest”.
I’d tell them that trusting in God strengthens our faith. We can trust him with our burdens because he deeply cares for us. And finally I’d tell them God’s words do bring life and courage and joy. They do give direction and something beyond ourselves to think on. God is strong. We are weak. We learn that when we reflect on what God says.
The week since VBS ended has been a difficult one. I have felt battered and beat down. My weakness rises like bile in the back of my throat. It’s been hard to swallow. What relief there is in knowing that I don’t have to be strong.
This Very Basic Stuff is what Vacation Bible School should be about. You’re never too old to learn that you can take off your mask. You can bravely live debilitated and feeble. Vulnerability invites grace and grace smiles at fragility and whispers, “Come”!