“Point your kids in the right direction – when they’re old they won’t be lost.” – Proverbs 22:6 (The Message)
Of the dozens of young men and women I’ve had the privilege of coming to know during Confirmation classes over the years, one of the most memorable and, shall we say, perplexing individuals I’ve encountered was Jason – a rather headstrong and opinionated ninth grader who over the course of one year, managed to challenge just about every bit of spiritual wisdom I sought to impart upon him and his fellow confirmands.
The pattern for our relationship was established at the very first class. After I’d explained all the requirements that our church and its pastor had for them to be confirmed later that spring, Jason immediately raised his hand to ask, “Does being an aetheist make a difference on whether I can be confirmed?” Well, yes, Jason, it kind of does, I answered, and then adding in a very pastor-like fashion, but the question is, if you don’t believe in God, what do you believe in? “Do you have to believe in something?” Jason persisted. Well . . . nooo, I said, you don’t have to, I suppose, but it’s kind of hard not to believe in at least one thing in your life. “Like what?” Jason would reply, and we were off on to a dialogue that continued pretty much uninterrupted for the next eight months.
Frankly, after that first night, I never expected to see Jason again – another confirmation rite done in by teenage rebellion. But thanks, at first to strong parental influence, and later on, I suspect, to his having found a worthy debate partner in his pastor, Jason showed up for every confirmation class, armed with new questions designed to challenge old assumptions about God, Jesus, the Church and life its own self. I’ll admit that there were nights I came home from those classes mentally exhausted and ready to tear my hair out – but as the year wore on, I also found myself actually looking forward to Sunday evenings to see how Jason might try to trip me up on my own theological foundations! Truth be told, he was making confirmation class a positive, lively and downright fun experience for student and pastor alike!
As the end of that year’s classes approached, the time was coming for the kids to make a decision as to whether they would confirm their faith at a special worship service planned for Pentecost Sunday – an important decision that I always told them was not only theirs and theirs alone, but also a truly adult decision: to publicly confess what it is that they had come to understand about their faith. Given the growing positive nature of our conversations, I’d begun to hope that perhaps even Jason would ultimately decide to be confirmed; but alas, it wasn’t to be.
He showed up at our house one evening to give me this news in person; and to my surprise, he was genuinely emotional about it. He didn’t want to disappoint me, he said, and he didn’t want to let down his family with this decision. It wasn’t that he was saying “no” to faith, he explained. It was just that he just had too many questions, so many lingering doubts that he couldn’t bear to go through the motions and say “yes” to something that he wasn’t entirely sure of. And in one of those relatively rare moments of grace that I actually said the right thing, I honored Jason’s courage for making his decision, urged him to keep on asking those tough questions, told him I’d pray for him, and invited him to come to the after confirmation barbecue with the rest of the class – which Jason did, right after he’d come to worship to cheer on his fellow confirmands.
Flash forward almost a decade – at the occasion of the wedding of Jason’s younger sister, at which Jason served as “Man of Honor.” I’d heard bits and pieces about Jason after he’d graduated high school – that he’d chosen to enter a field of public service, and had done a fair amount of charitable work as well, particularly with Habitat for Humanity and Project Hope. Now I found out he’d finished college and was married and living out of state; and as Jason introduced me to his wife and shared the news that they would soon be welcoming their second child, he also told me with this grin on his face that he’d recently been asked to serve as a deacon at the church where he and his wife were active members. Wow, that’s great, I answered, no doubt with a certain look of surprise on my own face. And to this, Jason simply smiled, “Yeah, it just took me a while to get there.”
Another year of Church School starts up this week at my church here in Concord – we have this small but amazing core group of kids who have shown us how much they enjoy coming to church and being part of a church family. This Sunday, after I’ve had a chance to visit with them and sing some kid songs with them during worship, they’ll leave the sanctuary to joyfully dive into our program of Bible Stories, games, crafts and songs. It’s part and parcel of Christian education and nurture, all so they might begin to get a sense of God’s presence in their lives and living, perchance to create a lifelong friendship with Jesus himself. They already have plenty of questions about all this “God stuff,” to be sure, which they won’t hesitate to ask, and as parents, teachers and pastors we’ll do our best to answer in ways they’ll understand. And there will no doubt be many more questions as they grow into adulthood, questions that I’m absolutely sure will challenge their elders and occasionally drive them to distraction! And as they grow, they might even end up taking a few detours along the way as they travel their individual pathways of faith.
But that’s OK . . . faith is, after all, a journey and not a destination, and though it might take a while, they’ll get there.
c. 2012 Rev. Michael W. Lowry