While teaching may not be for everyone in a church family, for those called to teach, it is one of the most challenging and rewarding ministries we can have. When we are in teaching mode, we are always planning and praying, observing and collecting for our classes, and thinking about the next class activity. Occasionally the best plans are laid aside for what is called a “teachable moment”.
Sometimes a great discussion in a classroom can be sparked by current events around us, upcoming activities for some of our students, and…that gift when the Bible lesson is a near-perfect match for our own personal experiences. One of those moments happened for me in early December.
We had been studying Genesis in our ‘tween (Middle School) class, beginning with the creation and moving forward, as part of the Gospel Project curriculum. On this particular Wednesday night, the lesson revolved around Jacob wrestling with the angel of God. Our class of seven had been reduced by half because we also had overlapping play practice for the Christmas season. In keeping with the lesson of angels, I had made angel-shaped sugar cookies. My plan was for us all to nibble cookies as we worked together in small groups.
When I asked these three, generally quiet students if they had ever wrestled with God, all shook their heads “no”. It was then I de-railed my lesson and took the class in a new direction. Thinking that my lesson could fail, I had one of those “A-ha moments” when I was pulled the class in a different—unplanned, unrehearsed direction. After telling them that the day would come when they would wrestle with the Father over a conflict between His commands and their desires, I encouraged them to take a cookie, munch away, and listen to my story.
As I began to tell them about my own first experience of wrestling with God, I was transported back in time to the summer of 1960. That was the summer I was 13 (the same age as some of my students). Why would a young girl need to wrestle with God? The answer was simple: I knew in my heart I needed to be baptized, but I really didn’t want to endure the agony that act of faith would demand of me. While I sat there before them—a grandmother and storyteller—I knew they might have trouble understanding unless they could see me at that age, too, so I needed to transport them back in time almost 60 years.
Today baptisms take place in many locations and under different circumstances. Then, it was a formal affair. When the invitation was made, I would be expected to walk to the front of the church, alone, with all eyes, some curious, most encouraging, on me—a too-tall-for-her-age, shy, fearful girl. I would die a thousand deaths, just getting from my seat to the front row. And then the confession I must make! I would have to speak in front of everyone, if only for a few seconds. My voice was sure to fail me as I gulped down my fear. The worst would be the actual baptism itself. At five, I had fallen into the fish pond and felt sure I was drowning. Since that time, I had never allowed myself to be submerged. And yet, here it was. I had to do that, as well. I wrestled with my fears and God’s call all week. That Sunday morning I could not take the first step down the aisle. That afternoon my misery grew to be greater than my fears, for I knew I had to put on my Savior. If the only way to do that was to walk down that aisle, talk to the minister so all could hear, and be placed beneath the water, so be it. Sunday evening found me ready for the invitation.
Following my baptism, I was blessed by the feeling of weightlessness. I knew I had done the right thing, for the right reasons. I also knew that I could face my fears, and with His help, overcome them. Our students will not remember every class, but they do remember this one when their teacher talked about wrestling with God while they ate angel cookies. It is my hope that it will bring them some comfort when they face this personal struggle of their own. It is only one of many that we can share with our students, whether planned or otherwise.
The teachable moment may just appear. We must always grasp it and understand it to be what it is--a gift from God!