By June Mathews
For the better part of the past three decades, I’ve taught kids in Sunday school.
Since Mama always taught Sunday school when I was growing up, I took it for granted that I would, too. I just thought it was something adults were supposed to do, kind of along the same lines as buying a house or driving an automobile.
So once Jimmie and I were married and had duly acquired a mortgage and a car note, I took what I considered the next step on the path to full adulthood: I agreed to help teach a class of 2-year-olds in Sunday school.
I felt safe and somewhat capable starting out with preschoolers. I knew the Itsy Bitsy Spider song by heart, and I could finger paint with the best of them. As long as someone else did the diaper-changing, I got along just fine.
I later jumped to fifth grade for a year or two, dropped back to fourth grade, then did a stint in sixth grade that lasted four or five years. But for a while now, I’ve co-taught fifth-grade boys with my friend, Randy, whose wife, Cindy, calls me his “Sunday wife.” But when a new group comes in each year, we carefully explain to the kids that we’re not a couple.
“Mr. Randy is married to Ms. Cindy, and I’m married to Mr. Jimmie,” I’ll routinely say, even though some of the kids tend to forget.
“But y’all fuss like you’re married,” a fifth grader once explained, causing me to question not only the state of his parents’ union but whether or not Randy and I have been teaching together entirely too long.
Over the years, I’ve taken breaks and gone into adult classes for a while. After all, teachers need to be taught, too. But before long, I’m ready to get back to the kids.
Some people think I’m drawn to them because I don’t have kids of my own, and that may be so. I do consider the hundreds of kids I’ve taught in Sunday school “mine” in a way. Fortunately, though, I don’t have to regularly feed them or send all of them to college.
But the true attraction is more a matter of maturity: The kids are more fun than the adults. I mean, had you rather play games and watch video Bible stories for an hour each week or sit around a table talking serious stuff with the adults? Duh.
And yeah, it takes some effort to prepare a lesson whenever it’s my turn to teach, but when all is said and done, I’ve learned as much from teaching as I’ve ever taught.
For one thing, I’ve learned to be flexible. I can make up games on the spur of the moment and scrap an activity altogether if it’s not working and move on to something else. This comes in especially handy when working with fifth-grade boys. They can turn a room inside-out in a matter of seconds, so quickly switching gears is often the key to maintaining some semblance of order.
And I’ve learned new words. After hearing one of my former 2-year-olds refer to a cupcake as “alicious,” the term became part of my vocabulary and remains so to this day. To give you an idea of how long that’s been, that 2-year-old now has a 2-year-old of her own.
Then there was the preschooler who could cuss like a sailor, but that’s a story for another time.
Kids also inadvertently teach me about their world. Thanks to the quality and quantity of their media exposure, they’re vastly more sophisticated than I was at their age. And when a sixth grader starts talking about girls her age having sex, the importance of spiritual training becomes ever clearer.
If you’re a parent or otherwise involved with kids, you’ll completely understand when I say teaching Sunday school has taught me patience. But somewhere along the way, I learned to lighten up and laugh at some of the kids’ shenanigans as much as they do.
Under certain circumstances, I figure that’s OK. Since God created kids with all their craziness, He obviously has a sense of humor.
And in that case, I’ll just bet He’s laughing, too.