What He Will Learn

The day before kindergarten, he quizzes me, wants to know what he’s going to learn at his new school. I place containers into his lunch pack like I’m putting together a puzzle.

“Well, you’ll be working more on your letters and numbers,” I tell him. “You’ll learn how to tie your shoes, how to check a calendar, maybe how to tell time on an old round clock face. You’ll learn to raise your hand before talking, to wait your turn, to stay in your seat. You’ll learn how to use the computer. You’ll learn all kinds of things.”

It all sounds good to me and I’m sure that this will have him hopping, skipping and jumping to school on the first day. But, when I look up from the lunch pack, there is his lip curled under, no smiley face to be seen.

“But I thought I was going to learn about God there,” he tells me. My heart breaks a little. This will be the first classroom he’s entered that doesn’t have Jesus at the center. This is a first step in sending him out into the broken world on his own. And now I have to tell him…not everybody believes in God.

I know there’s a way to carry childhood faith into the unbelieving world and let it grow into mature, deep relationship with God that overflows into thoughtful relationship with our fellow human beings, whether or not they believe as we do.

I’ve read much about a young man who practiced his faith and followed his convictions quietly instead of making an obnoxious stand, who gave his all at the work set in front of him, who found favor in the eyes of his teachers, who loved the mystery of God even when it made him feel like an oddball, who prayed faithfully even when it was against the rules, who stood ready to give a gentle answer for the hope that was in him and to lend his expertise in time of need…even to those who treated him harshly.

Isn’t Daniel the poster child for living in the tension as an authentic believer meeting secular society, for interacting confidently yet respectfully with all kinds of people coming at the questions of life from all different directions, with all different attitudes?

I remember one summer between college and married life, when I walked the streets of Barcelona with a group of European friends. From the start, I had prayed for God to grant me favor in their eyes. We were all studying to become teachers. And on top of the coursework I was studying how to live in the tension, how to dance to happy music with my friends and how to be silent when they did the Tarot cards because they hadn’t asked my opinion, how to share a bathroom and how to speak carefully when asked why I believe even more strongly in an embryo’s/fetus’ right to continue growing than I do a woman’s right to have her belly to herself, how to know each other as full human beings rather than as a list of political stereotypes, how to cook up convenience dishes from our different cultures and hear each other’s stories over meals shared, how to read my Bible and chat with the Lord at the window of my room…even in the company of skeptics.

By the end of the course after all the time spent as a big happy family, one friend looked at me puzzled, said in his British accent that I was quite pensive…a word he never thought he’d use to describe an American Christian. We friends learned with one another and we learned from one another. And I felt my faith grow all the stronger living and loving in the tension.

Back in the kitchen, my son helps me tug the zipper around his lunch. It stretches taut with all the items piled together in one pack. “Keep pulling,” I tell him. There will be tension, yes, but it doesn’t have to intimidate. He will learn this. He can press on with love and calm confidence like Daniel did. And he can speak in gentle reverence the mystery of God whenever he is asked.

{What’s your story? What advice do you have for thriving in a culture that doesn’t necessarily match your belief system?}

11 thoughts on “What He Will Learn

    • Thanks for the sweet words. We are so blessed that he gets to be in class with three other friends from the neighborhood whose parents are all believers. So, he feels quite at home in the classroom this year.

  1. My sister just came back from a missionary school in Africa (Heidi Baker’s school..do you know who that is?) and taught me what she learned about this very topic. She explained it the best I had ever heard. She said that they learn to always go into a new culture “low and slow.” Low meaning they serve and try their best to learn about the people. They always give honor to those in authority and never act as if they have all the answers. Slow meaning they take their time to build relationships (just like you did in Barcelona) and wait for the Holy Spirit to give them the opportunity to share the Gospel.

  2. Whew. I have a lot of failed experiences under my belt, but certainly no answers to living in tension! Matt Chandler talks about the pendulem swing….how, as Christians, we tend to swing back and forth between extremes of grace and legalism. I think I do the same as I try to walk the tightrope of “in but not of”…I swing towards “in” , and then I swing towards “not in at all.” I love Ali’s comment about “low and slow”…great words to live by!

    • I have definitely noticed that pendulum effect in certain phases of my own life and I think it happens between generations too. I think right now Christian culture is trying to correct (even over-correct) after an era of legalism that seemed prevalent in my childhood. Just watched Blue Like Jazz (fictional take on the themes of the book) last weekend and although there were major exaggerations, there was still much to relate with. Along with the example of how Daniel functioned in Babylonian society, I also take up Paul’s words about being all things to all people when I’m considering how to interact.

      • I think that is a really insightful observation about our current generation. I suppose that is an age-old pendulum–the Israelites, themselves, swung back and forth, back and forth. I wonder how we should live in light of that–do we anticipate the swing? It certainly helps us to understand our contemporaries better.
        I’ve been finding pearls of wisdom from each of the comments here…great conversation :).

  3. I think all of us, every human being, longs for respect. The respect you showed to the others in Barcelona and the respect you were shown is beautiful and, I daresay, rare. Yet it is such a simple gift and one that helps us build meaningful relationships with people from all walks of life. You have lived that well, so I’m guessing you have modeled it well for your son and he will default to respect in this new setting.

    • Thank you, Ann. That mutual respect is rare for sure and I find myself guarding my words until I feel it. But I’ve really been moved by I Peter 3:13-15, that all I need to do is “sanctify Christ as Lord” in my heart and be ready, unintimidated (again, NOT obnoxious either!). I have been pleasantly surprised at the deep, respectful interaction that follows when I allow my real experience of God to flow naturally into conversation. So glad to “see” you here. Thanks for your words.

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