Vacation Bible School, VBS for short. Growing up, my brother and I were the type of people who could be tapped for anything. Move a television, or dig a trough, or volunteer at a VBS. Or, volunteer at three during the same summer. Three churches, three back-to-back weeks, three renditions of the Western-style Saddle Ridge Ranch curriculum, three crowds of wild children ranging from preschooler to teenagers all fueled by Kool-Aid and Gushers.
Yes, it was horrible. And wonderful.
I can’t remember all my brother did. I know I assisted an arts-and-crafts station at one VBS, helped lead worship at another, and taught a group of children at the third.
A lot of funny moments, like naming my worship-leading persona “Ranger Richard,” only to have everyone pause and say, “Wait, you called yourself Ranger Rick?”
That made me face-palm.
Or that time at the art class when I accidentally traumatized a misbehaving child. I threatened to tell her parents, get her in trouble. She went so pale, I thought the message got through, but then she grabbed a teacher, stabbed a finger at me, and shouted, “He says he’s gonna kill my parents!”
I’m ashamed to say my immediate reaction was to double over in laughter because of how similar “tell” and “kill” must sound to her ears. Thankfully, the teacher got the joke, but the kid avoided me the rest of the season, always watching me out of the corner of her eye.
But my favourite memories are of my blessed group of little children I taught. More than taught: corraller during their playground time; chaperone to the bathroom; adult presence in their worship-time pew; and finally, the teacher who pressed hard those Biblical lessons.
The teaching time was the best time, all of us sitting around our assigned table, which was covered in paper to prevent messes and reduce the incidence of permanent damage.
I loved handing them each their photocopied handout, the cartoonish illustration of Jesus or Zacchaeus and the 2nd-grade grammar simplifications of life’s complexities. I’d read it to them or prompt them to read to me; help them with the word searches or fill-in-the-blank exercises;
ask them why they thought Jesus wanted to go across the sea alone or why he wasn’t mad that the old woman touched him; and discuss their own lives, joys and fears, their birthday parties or the mother late at work or how they could apply the lesson with their friends.
I think we had a good time.
There was one quirk about our group, though, a difference between our table and the dozen other ones scattered about the auditorium-sized room: Crayon covered the others. Rows of names, a dinosaur fighting a tow truck, butterflies and flowers and flying saucers. But not our table. Ours was brown, bland, unblemished.
I had banned the coloring, you see. My kids could use the crayons for their worksheets, but the table was strictly off-limits from their artwork.
The children once asked me why I did this, why I didn’t let them make their table pretty like all the others. I explained to them that we had important lessons and discussions to do. I wanted as few distractions as possible.
Sure, coloring wasn’t bad in itself, and plenty of people needed to fidget to pay attention, but they had their worksheets, they had proper outlets. I wanted them to respect that and my decision.
In short, I told them I was jealous. Yes, jealousy. Don’t spit out the word. Jealous: “to be fiercely protective of one’s rights and privileges.” I was their teacher, I had a right to their attention, and I refused to let a table usurp it from me.
It’s unfortunate that we in our American-Christian culture tend to decry negative emotions as “bad.” Sorrow, doubt, anger, jealousy; we sometimes think that any emotion that brings pain must be shoved away. Some think anger is a sin, and I’ve never met anyone who told me they were proud about their jealousy.
I totally understand—the excesses of rage and envy can lead to some ugly interactions, loss of control, even murder.
What I don’t understand is the implicit assumption that these feelings are inherently evil.
Even God feels anger, and he describes himself as a “jealous God” (Exodus 20:5), not in any shamefaced way, but as a point of fact. He is protective of his rights; as the creator of the universe, as the savior, as the groom to us the bride, he has a legitimate claim to our attention and devotion.
When we choose to ignore or dishonor him, he is rational to feel jealous, even angry, that we would pick some lesser thing over him. Thus, he pursues us, admonishes us, censures us and guides us in an attempt to restore a right relationship, to recover the rights due him.
That’s not even mentioning the mercy with which he tends to temper his actions, giving us chance after chance to choose him and rebuild the trust broken. God patterns for us healthy emotions and responses. His lesson of
jealousy is no less important or valid than his lessons of love or justice. I believe our emotions, all of them, positive and negative, have proper times for expression and proper methods of execution that not only honor God, but also work to improve our relationships with him and each other.
I was a jealous teacher. My time and the time of my kids was important. We had plenty of life-giving discussions to have without needing to worry about the distraction of coloring the table. And we had those discussions, moments of growth, of inspiration, of reflection.
…That is, until the literal last day, when my co-teacher finally showed up for pretty much the first time and promptly began coloring on the table instead of teaching the lesson. I tried to tell her, but—nope, not one iota of attention from any of them, worksheets left undone, no more inspiration or reflection. Their minds were commandeered entirely. No prompting or pulling away crayons was going to get them back.
There is, however, a time and place for jealousy. That day, I patterned mercy. They had been faithful stewards of our time the entire week, I had watched them grow and their eyes light with excitement as they learned about how they can be God’s cherished friends.
So I threw up my hands and rolled them the crayons, content.
To this day, I call them my class from Heaven, the best kids I’ve ever taught. I hope they remember our time together as fondly as I do.