I have a favorite Sunday joke that goes, “A mother left church to look for her son and found him sitting on the curb in the parking lot. ‘You need to come back inside,’ she said. ‘But Mom, nobody likes me. Nobody talks to me or wants to sit by me. It’s boring going to meeting after meeting. I’d rather be outside enjoying the sunshine. Isn’t that a better way to feel God’s love?’ ‘Son, there are two reasons you need to come back inside,’ she said. ‘The first is that you made a commitment to God. The second is that you’re the Bishop.’
I often feel like that bishop.
Of course, you can change bishop to pastor or priest or rabbi or even Relief Society President or PTA Chair. The reason I like this joke is because at its heart it’s really about reluctant leadership and obligation. Even the most stalwart on the outside can have internal doubts.
There are many people in my church who would find that sentiment horrifically unsettling, but I consider it marvelously humanizing. I feel like I can lend a hand to a human. I can also forgive humans for making mistakes.
My husband and I team teach Sunday School to fourteen year olds. Some days it’s like trying to raise the dead. They constantly beg for treats and want to take naps instead of participate in discussions. It’s a lot like helping in the nursery but without diapers or Goldfish crackers.
One Sunday when I was teaching alone I walked out on them, saying I refused to believe they were truly as stupid as they were pretending to be when they insisted Catholics crucified Christ.
You don’t even have to be Christian to know that’s impossible.
But calling their bluff and storming out was probably not one of my more Christ-like moments. I even told them that if they didn’t want to learn, I’d wheel in a tv and play a video each week while I sat in a corner reading a book. Surely that would bring more Sunday peace to my life than struggling with these knuckleheads.
After stomping around the hallway and grinding my teeth to hold in the inappropriate words that bubbled up to the surface, I realized what I needed to tell them.
God only had one perfect person to do his work in the entire history of the world—and even Jesus had days where he wept in frustration. If our faith rests in the infallibility of a single person or group—bishop, scout leader, parent, Sunday School class—we’re guaranteed to be disappointed, possibly angry, and sitting on the curb while the meeting is going on. Our fragile, tempest-tossed faith has to be more resilient.
Faith is something that grows not because of all the good we’ve experienced, but in spite of the bad. It is the fervent belief that no matter now big or insignificant our contribution seems, no matter how little progress we seem to be making, faith is knowing the journey defines the destination.
After nine months of cajoling, badgering, challenging, and insisting that kids think beyond easy answers like prayer and reading scriptures when we ask them about how they will tackle life’s curve balls, I realize that I’m going to miss them when a brand new class takes their place in a couple of weeks. More surprising is that they say they’re going to miss us, the mean teachers who insisted their weekly treat was having us as teachers.
Evidence of God’s power and grace, if you ask me.