I’ve been working on a few lessons for a tween Sunday School class of mostly boys for my church, Light of Christ. I’ve been in dialog with their regular teacher since last spring, when I did a short teaching on silence and prayer for the adults and the teens sat in. Fortunately, I knew that was going to happen ahead of time, so I prepared a slightly different lesson for them. I asked them to read through the story of Samuel being called by God in the temple and think about what kinds of things struck them about the story, in an abbreviated lectio divina style. At the end of our time of silence, the boys participated fully in the discussion, talking about how they felt about the story and how it made them feel about God. Nothing concrete, mind you, no one had a prophetic word or felt overcome by God’s presence, but they were all clearly engaged and most felt they had heard from God. That’s a big deal for a bunch of 10-13 year olds!
What happened to get those boys engaged? I’m not exactly sure, but I think it has something to do with my belief that they are old enough to hear God for themselves and their not knowing any better.
You see, at some point in our lives, something happens to us, and we stop believing God has anything to say to us. Sure, we believe the Bible, we believe in Jesus, we believe what Jesus has to say is for us. Maybe it’s a prayer that’s gone unanswered too long, or some life circumstance happens in a way that makes us think God could’t possibly have had a hand in it. But somewhere along the line, we stop believeing that God is personal, that he speaks to the core of our selves, that the words of Jesus–or The Word–is transformative. When we stop believing it’s transformative, we put a little layer of insulation between ourselves and God. The more we listen to the Word without really listening, the thicker the layer until we’ve built up quite a thick skin between ourselves and God. It’s only then that we wonder why we don’t hear from him.
I’m excited about teaching the tweens because I suspect the more vibrant our relationship with God is to begin with, the more difficult it is for us to build up layers between us and him. For these pre-teens who haven’t yet really separated their minds from their hearts, I hope to show them some spiritual disciplines that will engage their whole selves in worship and prayer. Just as for many adults, I’m sure some of the kids will resonate with certain disciplines more than others, but one thing I’m looking forward to is their willingness to try them and give honest feedback on what happened for them–yet another place where these tweens have an advantage over most adults. I pray some of them will find a vibrant way of engaging with God that will continue to grow as they do, protecting them from a crisis of faith or perhaps even falling away from God.
It’s a tall order, but I don’t think it’s too big for God, and judging by Samuel’s story, the brood of boys is up for the challenge.
Lord, help us to see our thick skins for what they are–our own protective layer keeping you out and us trapped in our confused thoughts. Help me to confess my sin, open my heart and strain my ears to hear your Word, which further opens my heart to your transforming presence, for more of you and less or me. Amen.