A Lesson I Learned Teaching the Pastor’s Class
As I have shared before, teaching the Pastor’s Class is one of my favorite things that I get to do in ministry. Now let me tell a story that demonstrates why this always means so much to me.
Two Sundays ago, our task was to talk about how baptism is an entering into Covenant with God. For this class we discussed the baptism of Jesus by John, and in particular when Jesus comes out of the water and here’s God’s voice saying, “This is my son, whom I love. With him I am well pleased.” My goal was to try to share with them how a covenant with God is so very different from basically any relationship we have here on earth. How God will uphold God’s side of the covenant no matter what, and that no matter what we may do after baptism, God still maintains he says for us as he said for Jesus: “You are my daughter, you are my son, whom I love. With you I am well pleased.”
It is my belief that a strong part of our fallen nature is that we struggle to accept love and grace that is unconditional. We are wired to think that we are capable of letting down those we love in such a complete way that they will withdraw their love from us for all time. So we tend to think about God in this way as well. It’s somehow natural to us to be suspicious of that kind of love.
So I gave the youth, myself and our Elder Sponsors in the class this task: 1) take a sheet of paper, and on the left write the names of people or groups of people in your life that you feel pressured to impress 2) then on the right of the page, next to each one, write down what you think you need to do to earn their approval. Our youth picked up on this right away and were very honest with themselves and with us. Their Middle School and High School years can be a complete pressure cooker… surrounded by so many people they feel they have to please. They impressed me with their understanding of this environment and their willingness to share.
I asked them to do two things with the list. First, to wonder if we could talk with some of these people face-to-face and shared with them our feelings about what we feel we needed to do to earn their approval, how many of them would tell us we were just expecting too much of ourselves? How many would tell us that we have their approval already. Second, I invited them at the bottom of the page to write under the column of people we feel we need to impress, “GOD,” and then under the column of what we need to do to earn approval, to write “NOTHING.”
As I’m teaching this class I realize how frequently I need to be reminded of this. We all do. As someone said it well, we spend too much time comparing our insides to everyone else’s outsides. We are our own worst critics, so it is a major spiritual challenge to remember that those words spoken to us through our baptism will be forever true from God: “You are my child. I love you. And I am so pleased with you.”