Some years ago, I had an opportunity to attend a friend’s ordination service in a small Wisconsin church. The sanctuary quickly filled with friends, relatives and seminary classmates, along with those who would be participating in the service itself. It was a “high day” in the church. A day of putting in your best efforts. And, yes, given the nature of things, a day to impress all who came. I noticed a boy about seven years old sitting at a piano in the chancel area. I assumed he was helping one of the adults nearby or had been told to stay there while a parent was out doing the important work.
But, Chris was not there to help. He began to play a piano prelude. His skills were average seven year old, basic piano. Sometimes he stumbled over the keys. There were sour notes. At other times his pieces came off like a polished professional. There were pauses when Chris looked through his book for another piece he knew how to play. Once, during his twenty minutes of playing, Chris’s brother was sent to him with a message to start over at the front of his book (where Chris was a little more skilled).
Eventually, the choir came in and the organist was able to take her place at the organ. Chris had started towards his pew when someone at the back of the church began to clap. Soon sounds of applause filled the sanctuary and an enormous smile filled Chris’s face. We are people of many different experiences. Our maturity and faith level vary. Some of us stumble in life in areas other are proficient. At times we get confused and need to go searching for direction. We attempt a project only to see if fail miserably. We become discouraged, afraid and unwilling to try again. We may find ourselves being sent back to the beginning. There are even moments when we have to admit to ourselves, that the notes we are striking come out sounding just a bit sour to our own ears.
As I thought about Chris, it seemed to me that this small incident reflects the family of faith at its best . . . people applauding and encouraging the best efforts of others . . . Recognizing that all of us will stumble along the way. There will be sour notes and lost places. In our support and encouragement of one another, we become Christ to a world that needs a reason to smile. Who in your life needs some applause?
It was the custom in one of the churches I served for the parents of a child who was graduating from high school to make a few comments at a baccalaureate breakfast. I recall one parent who started by saying: “I once went to a church school teacher training event where the comment was made, ‘It takes a village to raise a child.’ and I said to myself…that’s not true. I’m the one who does the laundry, cooks the meals, cleans up after the messes, disciplines and corrects. I’m the one who chases around to lessons and school activities.”
But then she went on to say how her mind had changed over the years. She mentioned her son’s involvement in the church and the way the church had supported his fledgling efforts with a violin until he had become an accomplished violinist. She talked about the encouragement he received in the church fellowship that had impacted his life. As she thanked the people gathered that morning, she continued by saying, “Now I know, it really does take a village to raise a child.”
Most parents I meet are deeply concerned with their children. Today’s parents want to raise their children with a healthy sense of self-esteem, and the inner strength to resist negative behavior. A few years ago, the Search Institute began to ask a new question. In a time when everyone was wondering what families were doing wrong, the Search Institute asked,”What are families doing right?” and “What gives our children the resiliency to resist destructive outside pressures or to bounce back when they make a mistake?” Their discoveries included a list of Forty assets, which consistently were part of the life of a healthy child.
Among the assets named was regular involvement in a church or synagogue. The size of the church didn’t seem to matter. What mattered was the fact of a child’s regular involvement in it. I suspect that the impact of a church on a child’s life spills over into some of the other assets which were named. Children involved in churches are often involved in music ministries of the church. Youth groups provide structure, while religious classes reinforce values that are important for families. Those values are also included as assets, such as: “helping people,” a “concern about world hunger,” “caring about people’s feelings,” “valuing sexual restraint.” Both youth groups and religious classes provide other caring adults whom a child is able to relate to in a positive way. Even the smallest of churches offer many of those assets in one way or another.
One of the easiest, and the best things that you can do for your children, is to take your children to church with you. This is part of God’s plan for healthy families. You may be surprised. You may even find the experience meaningful and significant for yourself.
George served on the mission team in the church I belonged to before I became a pastor. Deeply concerned about world hunger, George wanted to do something that would help people get out of that entrenched poverty which leads to malnutrition. An engineer in the food industry by trade, he started asking, how he could use his knowledge and expertise to export technology to third world countries. I’m pretty sure George was the one who started the conversation with his friends, though he would never take credit for it.
There were some false starts, but eventually he and his friends discovered that grinders would bring about significant change in rural areas of Africa and Central America. Grinders for grains and grinders for peanuts. Women were empowered and became small business owners while, students in engineering classes back home were mentored into caring. When George died a few weeks ago it was noted that in one project alone he had helped save the lives of 120,000 children. He never took a break from volunteering, either with the organization he helped found, or in simple neighborly tasks. He was a person who lived his faith.
Not all of us are gifted quite so much, but each of us can make a difference. Our lives are richer when we use the gifts and talents God has given us in service to others. Oh, there will be times we may feel a bit used. We will meet people who could do for themselves without our help. But then one day we will be surprised by the power of a simple gift. What we thought was nothing, meant everything. A few years ago, a young man I’d never seen before stopped by my office. He said he needed gas so he could get to a job interview. Fresh out of cash, all I had to give him was an almost used gas card and a prayer. A few days later he stopped by to thank me. He’d gotten the job. He came again to thank me. Then once more. Each time he told me how the gift I had given him had changed his life. I thought of the eight dollars left on that gas card and I knew that it wasn’t I who had given him a gift. It was he who had gifted me. He had reminded me what a blessing it is to make a difference in another person’s life.