by John Wyatt
One day I awoke with a powerful sense that today I should do something silly and impulsive – so I wore pink, fluffy bunny ears to work. The women thought it was adorable and many of them commented on how much brighter their day seemed. The men thought it was simply too much to bear, and wondered if I had finally gone over the edge. This was a win-win scenario for me!
Eventually, one of my male co-workers mustered the courage to ask me why I was wearing bunny ears. Rather than try to explain the wordless sense of impulsive happiness that had seized me that morning, I decided to give what I hoped was a more politically correct answer.
“I teach Sunday School, and the kids enjoy the ears – so, I decided to wear them to work, just to see what happened.”
“You teach Sunday School,” he smirked.
“Now I’m really worried,” and he wandered away, muttering “those poor kids.”
That stopped me in my tracks. I thought that I was a good Sunday School teacher! I thought that the kids liked having me there! So I decided it was time to review why I taught Sunday School in the first place – to ask if I was really a good teacher, or if it was just my own ego that said I was doing a good job. That evening I pondered the sequence of events that had led me, a devout Agnostic – to become a Sunday School teacher in a Unity church.
It all began late in 2006 while sitting in the service at the Unity Center in San Diego. I had been attending since 2001, but still felt as if there was something missing in my life. Early in the service, Jeanne Anthony, the Youth and Family Director, announced that they needed “men” in the Youth and Family Ministry. She encouraged the “men” in the congregation to help balance the predominantly female staff because “young boys need a man to help them grow.”
I couldn’t sit still the entire service. Thoughts of teaching rampaged through my head. I liked kids and I had often taught adult classes in technical subjects, but would this be right for me? As a confirmed Agnostic, could I teach children something that I wasn’t sure I even believed myself?
In later years, I learned that what we see in others we strengthen in ourselves. This meant that to really understand what these spiritual teachings meant, and to truly make them a part of my life, I had to see them in others. But at the time, all I could do was vacillate between “I’ll volunteer” and “I’ll run for the hills!”
I left the service by a different door than usual, exiting through the Youth and Family wing. I figured that if I walked through the wing and encountered no one, then wouldn’t that be the same as volunteering? I reasoned that if no one was there, then I was free to go home and forget this silly idea of teaching. After all, it wouldn’t be my fault if no one was there when I tried to volunteer. In retrospect, this was my ego’s way of pretending to volunteer by convincing me that “I tried, but no one was there.” I could still keep a clean conscience and remain a victim! What could be more ego soothing than that?
While my mind was focused on dreams of escape, I turned a corner and almost collided with Jeanne Anthony!
“Oh!” Jeanne exclaimed. “Can I help you?”
There I was – frozen like a deer in the headlights. My brain locked up as my mouth uttered “I came to volunteer for Youth and Family.”
WHAT!!?? Did that really come out of my mouth?! What about my clever plan to simply walk through the wing and escape without incident? What about my victimhood? I mean, what’s the point of pretending to volunteer if I actually end up volunteering???!!!
“Oh, that’s fantastic!” Jeanne chirped. She led my dazed body into the Director’s office and helped me fill out forms. I might have signed away my life savings for all the awareness I had at the time. All I could think was “What have I DONE?”
Jeanne was kind enough to let me pick my method of execution: next week she would put with me the teenagers and, if I survived, the next week she would put me with the 3 rd through 5 th graders. Those were the two classes most in need of replacement teachers and I could then pick the class that I liked the most. I pasted on my best smile as I grunted “thanks” and left for home, my Youth and Family handouts clutched in my numb hands.
During the week my mood lightened considerably as I realized how I could best handle this new situation.
“I’ll feign injury!” I thought triumphantly! I was old, I was weak – they will believe it! I can escape with honor! I pondered whether I should resort to outright injury or simple illness. Illness was easy, but it had the disadvantage of recovery. Jeanne might simply hold the offer open until I was better. On the other hand, injury could be so … well … painful! And, unless it resulted in permanent disability, there was still the risk of recovery. So on the next Sunday I was there at the appointed hour, ready to undergo Death by Teenager. I tried to maintain a positive attitude as I climbed the stairs to the Youth of Unity room.
“I’m positive that it will be terrible. I’m positive that it will be rotten. I’m positive that they will hate me.” By the time I reached the classroom I was utterly panicked. This is good – the adrenalin keeps the heart pumping so I won’t simply pass out from fear.
Unfortunately, the Reality was far worse than the Dread - I had fun. Not the kind of fun that felt like real bonding, but it was fun nonetheless. Modern teenagers are a far different breed than when I was their age, especially when you consider the fact the when I was their age, they hadn’t even been born yet. There were the Moody ones, the Timid but Hopeful ones, the “I’m so Cute” ones, the “I’m Invisible and You Can’t See Me” ones, and the “When is our next big Teen Event” ones. Come to think of it, they were exactly like I was at their age, except they had iPods! For the next hour I actually had some fun and found myself looking forward to the next Sunday, when I would visit the 3 rd through 5 th grade class.
I spent the next week getting mentally prepared. “I’ll be awful! I’ll be terrible! The kids will hate me! They’ll throw me out! I’ll get mad at them and be worse than Attila the Nun!” I called this “motivational inspiration.” My wife, Anna, called it “Insanity.” “You’ll be fine,” she said. “The kids won’t hate you. They won’t throw chairs at you. And they definitely won’t burn you at the stake!”
“Are you sure” I queried? “Maybe I should bring marshmallows anyway, just in case?”
“Bring hotdogs,” Anna corrected, “it won’t upset their blood sugar as much.”
A few years earlier I had taken up meditation as a regular spiritual practice. Each morning I sat for 30 minutes to an hour in silent meditation. By Saturday, I knew that I wasn’t going to be allowed to chicken out. That morning I sat in meditation with a single question: “Why do I want to teach Sunday School?” The answer came, as many of them do, in the form of a vision. I saw myself in the Parable of the Sower, scattering seeds. Some seeds fell on the road and were trampled by carts of adversity. Others fell on hard ground and were eaten by birds of worldly desire. Still others fell in rocky soil, sprouted briefly, then died because growing was just too much trouble. But some fell on fertile soil, sprouted, and became healthy plants. I knew then that what Spirit wanted of me was to simply scatter seeds. It didn’t matter if they grew – that would depend entirely on the soil in the listener’s heart. If some seeds failed to grow – I was not to feel guilty. If some seeds grew into mighty plants, I was not to feel proud. How they grew was not mine to determine. I only had to be a good sower.
Next Sunday morning I tiptoed gently into the Youth and Family wing, wondering what a room full of 8 to 11 year olds would be like. I wondered if I could really be a good sower. But even my best motivational preparation could not prepare me for what was about to happen.
As I entered the room I saw Jennifer, our minster’s 10 year old daughter, standing on a chair and writing inspirational sayings on the classroom whiteboard. I stopped dead in my tracks – I’m in the same class with Jennifer! Not only will I flop – I’ll flop in front of the minster’s daughter!
NOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!! This was like filling out my income tax forms with an IRS Auditor looking over my shoulder! The scene whipped through my mind in an instant:
“Mom! We had a horrible new teacher today! He was rotten and awful and didn’t know anything! Please get rid of him – NOW!”
I envisioned myself being cashiered – thrown out of the Unity Center by burly bodyguards! I was doomed! But even my most vivid nightmares were nothing compared to what transpired next.
I had fun. I mean genuine, heart lifting fun! My maturity level was just right for this group! I could be silly and fit in! And as for Jennifer, she turned out to be warm, caring, inquisitive, and highly intelligent. She wasn’t scary at all. In fact, the same could be said for all the kids. Maybe this wasn’t going to be such a disaster after all! Maybe I could survive this for a few weeks, then claim “work duties” or some other face-saving excuse. Then I could bow out gracefully, having given it a “good try.”
Reverend Wendy, our minister, often says that if you want to make God laugh, just tell Her your plans. So it was that next week, God closed the trap on me for good.
We had the usual lesson, which was illuminating and fun. Afterward, everyone was to draw or paint a scene depicting whatever they valued most in life. I watched, in prison guard fashion, as child after child drew things like “Love” and “Faith” and “Family” – all the things that are safe to draw in a Sunday School class. Everything was going smoothly, until I reached Chris.
Chris had drawn a small village. People walked through the village, some carrying baskets on their heads. There was a well and a few dogs. Overhead, American airplanes flew, dropping bombs on the people in the village. Body parts flew in all directions. I was about to respond with a scathing reproach, as my childhood ministers would have done, but something Spiritual intervened – I knew what to do. I stood next to Chris and admired his drawing for several seconds. Finally I spoke.
“Who are you bombing?” I asked innocently.
“Iraqi’s” he proudly replied. I paused to admire his artwork, which was rather good for a 10 year old.
“Hmmmmm.” I queried “why Iraqi’s?”
“Because they’re EVIL!” he cackled.
“Oh.” I continued watching him draw more bombs. Body parts scattered everywhere. After a few more seconds I spoke again.
“Why are they evil?” I asked as innocently as I could.
“They’re trying to kill us!” he cried.
“I see.” I paused for a few more seconds. “How does it make you feel when they try to kill us?”
“It makes me HATE them! I want them DEAD!”
“So, how do you think they feel when we bomb them?”
Chris stopped cold. I watched his eyes widen. I could almost see the light clicking on inside his head. I immediately shifted the tone.
“How would you feel if someone gave you a pizza?” I chirped.
“I’d be happy!” Now Chris was beaming. He looked at his drawing for several more seconds, and then he crumpled it up and threw it away. Taking another piece of paper he drew another village. He drew people walking through the street, some with baskets on their heads. A dog stood near the village well. American airplanes flew overhead dropping – pizzas.
Chris understood. The seed I planted had sprouted. You can’t be present at an event like that and not be touched to the core. I was hooked.
You see, all the years I had been attending Sunday services was no different than going to a gourmet restaurant, reading the menu, then going home and wondering why I still felt hungry. But after watching the light come on in Chris, I knew that this was the real meal. The menu wasn’t important, except to guide me to the meal. This experience was what all those spiritual teachings were really about. This was the meal.For one to two hours a week, I have the privilege of scattering spiritual seeds among children. The time is filled with laughter and fun and games, with no thought of yesterday and no fear of tomorrow. During my time with the children I am totally in the present moment. I used to fear that teaching Sunday School would be a “job,” but it isn’t – it’s a Gift that Spirit wanted me to have. You see, I’m not the only one scattering seeds. By simply being who they are, just as they are, these children are also planting seeds in my heart. There is a line in the book A Course In Miracles that says it all: “As you teach so shall you learn.” Children are wonderful teachers.