Year B, Peace Sunday, Psalm 34:1-8, 19-22; Lectionary for October 24, 2021
Nine years ago, I broke my wrist just as the school year began. It was rotten luck and I needed a lot of help getting my classroom ready, but I survived. Eight years ago, I broke my ankle. This time, I needed a lot more help– I needed surgery and couldn’t bear any weight on my ankle for three months, and even then, I had a long rehabilitation ahead. No amount of prayer knit my bones back together. No amount of faith took away the pain when the cast came off, when I could feel the metal scraping against my muscles and skin during physiotherapy.
I have to admit, I really struggle when I read the Psalms of praise. The psalmist paints a rosy picture of the life of a believer; a little too rosy. After all, many of the poor have called out to God, but how many have been saved from all their troubles (Psalm 34:6)? It’s difficult to read these glorious praises and promises when you can find hungry, hurting, and homeless people in any community. Would God help them if only they prayed more or believed harder? Why would a loving God put conditions on God’s mercy in the first place?
How do we make sense of the suffering of the world when the bible tells us of God’s great mercy for his people? This is one of the greatest theological questions, one I can’t hope to fully answer in a blog post, but I can give you my thoughts and perhaps they will be a useful way to talk with the children in your ministry about God’s promises and the reality of suffering.
I believe that God is always with us, just a breath away. God is with us when we have a great day and everything goes our way, and God is with us when nothing works out. God is with us when our bones break, when cancer cells wreak havok on our bodies, and when natural disasters strike. God never leaves our side, but is also not of “This World.”
In this world, we will have trouble, pain, depression, homelessness, poverty, violence… and God is there, waiting, waiting for us to close our eyes, take a breath, and remember that God’s kingdom of peace and plenty is right there within us. Sinking into God’s presence won’t make the psalmist’s promises literally come true, but the more we practice paying attention to the kingdom within us, the easier it gets to face the troubles of this world. When we know, really know that we are not alone, that is God’s mercy at work. When we take the time to notice God’s presence, we are delivered, if only for a moment, from our troubles.
Children are naturally concrete thinkers, so it can be tough helping them to understand something they can’t touch or see, like God. Matters are even more complicated by the media images of God as a bearded man in the sky. How do we teach children that God isn’t just over there, but everywhere? God Knows All About Me, by Claire Page can work as a conversation starter on this topic. It’s a fun rhyming book with bouncy illustrations that describe how God knows everything about us, no matter what. With guidance, children can take this idea from “God knows all about me” to “God is always with me.”
This book does not explicitly say that God is always with us, so as a worship leader or Sunday School teacher, you’ll still have some work to do, but this is the closest I’ve found to a book that can help kids understand that God’s kingdom is right here with us, only a breath away.
Questions to ask before you read:
- How do you get to know someone?
- Do you know EVERYTHING about your best friend?
- Do your parents know everything about you?
Questions to ask after you read:
- Can God be with you all the time, if God is already with me all the time?
- Does God stop being with you if you do something bad?
- Is God with some people more than others?
Thanks for reading! I hope this post sparks some interesting conversations with the kids in your care, and maybe even the adults in your circle of faith.
An apology to my regular readers for the lack of posts lately. Life has been a bit busier than usual, and it’s taking some time to adjust to the different demands on my time. I should be back up to 2 posts a week soon!
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