Psalms and Preschool Problems

I’m calling it the Pre-K paradox.  On the day my daughter turned four, she discovered a new-found independence.  Suddenly she can dress herself, brush her teeth without supervision, and set her own place at the table.  (I’m gleefully harnessing this enthusiasm by teaching her to use the dustbuster and empty the dishwasher.)  Conversely, on that same birthday a new phrase entered her vocabulary: ‘I can’t.’  In the strange way the universe works, on any given morning she can get up, make her sister a hat, build a functional car out of blocks, and then make her own breakfast- but she simply can’t put on her shoes.

I had one of these moments of perplexed desperation this week while in our local superstore.  She had danced around with our shopping list for nearly an hour, filling the cart with necessary items and accurately re-shelving the unnecessary ones she’d brought along too.  But when it was time to leave, she couldn’t possibly walk to the register.  “I just can’t, mummy,” she declared.

There, in the middle of the arts and crafts aisle as she was about to flop herself on the floor in feigned exhaustion, inspiration struck.  I grabbed a nearby foam hat and a bag of sparkly stars, and brought about the dawn of a new era.  I explained to her that the hat was no ordinary one, it was a problem-solving hat.  She could only wear it if she was willing to try and solve a problem- and if she succeeded, she could decorate the hat with a star.

It worked.  Somewhere within her she found the energy to walk to the register, and then wore her hat proudly to the car.  We’ve used the hat to help her discover her own inner resources, from problems as simple as cleaning up a spill to the complexity of resolving conflict with her sister.  She’s discovering what I saw in her all along: she always had the creativity to tackle a challenge, she just didn’t know it.

Preschool Problems

We’re going to need a bigger hat.

 

I wonder if that’s what the Psalmist was feeling as he penned Psalm 77 .  He starts out pretty low, literally crying out to God for help.  In the middle of the Psalm he rallies, reminding himself, “I will remember the deeds of the Lord; yes, I will remember your miracles of long ago.”  What comes next is a beautifully descriptive narrative of God’s power and faithfulness.

Why is it that some of our most profound creativity appears when we are facing a challenge?  I once knew a youth pastor who would literally plan a problem into every retreat she organized.  The bus would break down, or they’d get lost.  It became a running joke for her youth group- “Remember the time when…”  What her group didn’t realize is that they were doing exactly what she had hoped they would:  they were remembering a time when they stepped out of their norm, faced a problem, and grew closer together as a group.

Sadly as adults we don’t get problem solving hats.  Maybe we don’t spend enough time recognizing our own efforts to tackle the challenges we face- or maybe we just don’t even try.  I remember my first few months in England, desperately waiting for the rain to stop so I could go outside.  It didn’t take me long to realize that with that kind of thinking I’d never leave the house- and in the end, a little rain didn’t do any harm.  By staying in I wasn’t able to get out and do the things I wanted to- was passionate about- was created to do.

Lately it’s occurring to me: can solving a challenge, using my God-given gifts, doing what I was created to do- can that be a form of worship in itself?  There’s a song we sing in worship which sums it up poignantly, “And though my heart is torn, I will praise You in the storm.”  Perhaps one of the most simple, direct ways to acknowledge our Creator is to pick ourselves up and use the unique gifts which He knew we had all along.

After a busy few days of problem solving, our family is having some much-needed down time together this weekend. Outside it’s gray and wet- a welcome break from the August heat.  I think we’ll go play in the rain.

 Play in the rain

Here is a worship activity to try:  Tackle a challenge that’s facing you this week.  In a quiet moment make a list of the things you learned, or the gifts you’ve been given that helped you, and give thanks.  For a group or family activity, do a puzzle or challenge together and then take time to recognize what each person in the group contributed.  Share your reflections with each other, and give thanks.  Or you could go outside with and umbrella and talk about times when God helped you face something hard.  Remember to tell us how it went in the comments below!

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Bringing bunting (and other great stuff) to the world

The ministry of bunting
The ministry of bunting.
Could that be a real thing please?  
Cause I would rock that.

I’m still getting used to speaking my native language again. When I accidentally drop phrases like ‘cheeky’ and ‘bits and bobs’ with my American twang a certain episode of Friends comes to mind, and it’s not pretty. So I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised when I said in a Sunday school planning meeting I wanted to make bunting with the kids- and I got a roomful of blank stares.

It was sort of like the blank stare I gave a young man in a youth group once when he asked- in a traditional, centuries-old church in Northern England- why we always have to sing in our services. I didn’t get it. Singing is, like, what we do in church. Repeatedly. We’ve been doing it for hundreds of years. What’s the question?

Personally, I love to sing. Break out the hymnal, the four-part harmony and just about any kind of accompaniment and I’m good to go. But as it turns out, this boy hated to sing- and even more, he was embarrassed to be heard while singing. We were putting him in an uncomfortable situation week after week, and it was becoming a challenge for him to come to church. With his simple question, my world changed.

I’m not exaggerating. It struck me that in church we create a foreign environment, and I knew exactly how it feels to be the foreigner. When I began to look at worship from the perspective of someone who feels left out and embarrassed when the organ starts to play, I wondered if maybe there are a lot of people who feel the same way and simply don’t come. This lad’s faith was real, his worship was genuine- but we were holding him back from both.

From that day I’ve made it my business to approach worship, prayer, and even communication from different angles, and to think about how to make each one more inclusive of different learning styles and levels of understanding. As I plan, I ask myself- how might someone who’s never done this before feel about it? And it works. Over the years I’ve had many encouraging conversations with kids, teens and adults who’ve said ‘I never felt like I could pray before.’ or ‘I’m tone deaf. And I finally felt like I was a part of worship.’ Music to my ears.

I’ve been challenged and encouraged lately to share some of the things I’ve learned and developed in ministry. So I’m going to do just that- but on one condition. Are you ready? Here it is:

Give it a try.

I promise not to go crazy with the fingerpaint and glitter on you. I aim to explore approaches worship and prayer which break away from the typical auditory learning method and can empower anyone, at any age and at any point on the journey. It’s not about being different for different’s sake- it’s about helping each one of us connect with God in a new and authentic way. And maybe you’re completely comfortable with singing and church and praying with your head bowed and eyes closed. If you are, I’m really glad- but can’t we all learn something from a different perspective?

So, without further introduction (because this one is long enough already). I give you a new feature here at RGB…

5sf 1 with watermark

Let’s explore spiritual disciplines using all five of our senses, and see what happens. I promise to share things to inspire and help you on your journey, if you promise to give them a try. Deal?

Tune in tomorrow for our first adventure!