How Will the Children Find Peace?
Inside those doors they taught the little ones, pre-K and Kindergarten, to sing in French. They taught us to use paste, and not to eat it. They let us play, too, in the miniature wooden kitchen, and with a little wooden train set.
When we reached 1st Grade we wore different uniforms through those doors. Gone were the neat stiff blue-jeans and checked collared shirts. Big kids, we wore navy jumpers, white blouses and saddle shoes, and navy cardigans with a crest over our hearts. Now we were taught that if we were not busy with an assignment, we were to sit silent and still, hands folded and two feet on the ground.
They also taught us to dance. It was an escape for little girls like me, from sitting still, and from sports. On Monday, Tap. On Tuesday, Ballet. On Wednesday, Tap. On Thursday, Ballet. And so it alternated five days a week, every week of the school year. Ballet was the great joy of my early school years.
We also learned Spanish, and English, and Math, and spelling. I worked hard. We all did. To do otherwise was impermissible. As the hours passed we were ushered from one room to the next to learn each subject in a group organized not by grade-level but by our ability and personal progress.
I learned fast and well behind those doors. I also worked late.
This school not only provided morning supervision before classes, but after-school care, decades before such programs would become commonplace. As a result, I would arrive at school between 7 and 7:30 in the morning and remain behind those doors until 5:30 or 6, depending on how long my mom remained trapped in L.A. traffic. At certain times of the year it would be barely light when I was dropped off and dark when I got picked up to finally go home. I still remember the desolation of sometimes being the last child left, dark windows in my periphery, waiting to go home.
And so, I remember my first day at Sunday School.
It was shortly after my mom remarried and we moved to a different town. For some reason, my mom got it into her head to join the Lutheran church up the street. Perhaps we always went to church, but this is the first I remember of it.
As we got out of the car, Mom handed me a quarter, and I burst in to tears.
"What's the matter, Laurie?"
It was money for the offering plate.
But I thought it was lunch money. I thought was being sent off for another day of school, on the weekend. I was heartbroken.
Sadly, aside from felt-boards and smells, that first moment is all I remember of the years of Sunday School that would follow. I would never love it, because it would always represent for me a theft from the few precious unscheduled hours of my life.
And so, today, forty years or more later, when I see mommies and daddies rushing kids from here to there, from one scheduled, supervised activity to the next, my heart breaks a little. How will those children ever view church as anything but another thing on the already-full schedule? How will they ever recognize Christ as anything more than an add-on to an already-full life? How will they ever have the quiet moments to recognize the beauty of God's creation, to commune with their own souls, to count their blessings and reckon with their sins? When will they consider life and beauty, death and eternity?
As I consider how pressured I felt back then, how precious my unstructured down-time was to me, I think how much worse things would have been if I also had the technology available to me that kids have now. Would I have ever read a book just because I wanted to, drawn a picture just for the joy of it, or prayed in the quiet emptiness of my own room?