Last night I dreamt I was on some popular talk show because of a cooking show I hosted where, like Gordon Ramsay’s Hell’s Kitchen, there are a dozen or so aspiring chefs, but unlike Gordon’s show, the contestants were beginners; my job was merely instructing them along the way. In my dream, it was obvious to everyone that the show I was in had some substantial success, which prompted an important question from the host of the talk show regarding my style. Essentially, she asked, “What’s your teaching style?”
I vividly remember my response, “Well, a gentle tone of voice and constant repetition of the basics do two major things; they develop a deeper sense of patience within the instructor and since there is no yelling and screaming, they allow the student to be less fearful and therefore have more liberty to be creative; more freedom to risk trying something new.”
You have no idea how bizarre this dream was for me. Why? Because it woke me up quicker than a nightmare. I woke up sweating and breathing a little heavily for some reason I’m still trying to figure out, but what was oddest of all, was that I could not go back to sleep until I wrote something out from this dream. It was a very rare and peculiar moment of inspiration.
What was so inspiring about it? Well, to get there I have to back up a little bit, about two years ago actually, to when I was asked by one of my pastors if I’d like to help out with the kid’s ministry at Calvary. I said no initially, but eventually realized it was an avenue for service that Calvary desperately needed. And ever since, it’s been a bumpy ride as I’ve relearned how to deal with kids.
You see, when I was a kid, I was being father by my grandpa. More often than not, he’d rely on the volume of his voice rather than the content of his words. It made me very resistant to many male figures, especially the ones who wanted to yell at me. It’s why I decided against any military route for my career because I just can’t stand it when someone yells at me. It’s not to say that my grandpa didn’t love me growing up; he most certainly did. Any man who sacrifices most – if not all – of his retirement fund to raise two grand children most likely has no other reason but love. It’s just he fathered in a much different way than I appreciated; a much different way than I would like to father my children.
Although my grandpa was good at engraining certain dos and don’ts in life, his style of yelling isn’t the best style for Sunday school kids. I mean, it might be fun to dress up like a drill sergeant and have the kids run through an obstacle course all morning, but their view of God and especially of church would likely become terribly distorted. No, with kids, there must be a different and gentler approach. It’s quite obvious Jesus utilized this gentle technique because kids weren’t afraid of Him. Kids generally won’t get too close to people they don’t really feel comfortable around. It’s why a lot of them shy behind their parents’ legs when meeting a stranger. But when they grow comfortable enough around a certain person, they’ll start running to him. I’d have to imagine that kids ran to Jesus.
This last weekend was my turn to help out with the kids on Sunday morning. Unlike how I felt a year ago, I was ready to go yesterday morning; I was ready to enjoy hanging out with kids who were still learning how to tie their shoes and to write words forwards instead of backwards. And when class came and went one of the main instructors from week to week approached me afterwards and thanked me for being there. She said I “kept all the kids calm and didn’t let things get out of hand.”
I thought about that on my way home yesterday morning – trying to figure out what was so different about that morning’s Sunday school compared to the last time I helped out when everything seemed chaotic; someone’s coffee was spilled all over one table, several kids were crying, and I think someone got glue in their hair, but I’m not entirely sure. The only thing that I could possibly think of as a different factor was my general attitude and tone of voice.
Instead of demanding the kids to be quiet, I merely signaled to be quiet; instead of saying, “Go sit down in a circle,” I said, “Let’s go sit down in a circle,” and then I sat with them; and instead of saying, “Don’t put the glue on the table,” I said, “Aim for the paper; our snowballs will stick better to the Christmas cards that way.” Somehow, I just kept a gentle tone with the kids even when they seemed to be getting out of hand. It proved to be a much smoother morning for everyone and what I noticed when everyone was leaving, no one was afraid of anyone else.
Meaning absolutely no disrespect to my grandpa, he seemed to teach me how to father kids through fear and intimidation. But I often find God being the instructor I was in my dream; utilizing consistent repetition in what to do and where to go all the while using a gentle, patient voice. Sure, there is an intimidating element to the voice of God; He boomed out His voice on the mount of transfiguration and the disciples fell to the ground in fear. But I don’t think this is how He wants our relationship with Him to be. I don’t think He wants us to come to Him because we fear the fires of hell if we don’t; I think He wants us to come to Him because while we fear what He’s capable of, we trust and love Him more. We know that He cares for us as a loving Father and therefore we have no need to be intimidated when approaching Him.
My dream this morning, I believe, didn’t tell me what kind of job I was going to have in the future; I have no interest in being a chef (no offense to the aspiring chefs of the world). No, I believe this was God teaching me how I should live my life and conduct my character; gentle, but consistent and goal-oriented.
Ultimately, I want to be like Him. But until I get there, I’m going to trip and stumble along the way. And yet this is exactly why Jesus took the wrath that we deserve; to enable us with the freedom to keep going rather than giving up. Like the philosophy relayed to me in my dream; constant repetition of what to do and a gentle tone of voice allow me (especially as a writer) to be less fearful in my creativity. No, I’m not going to go out and blatantly sin under the guise of “I’m just trying something new.” But I’m less fearful of failure because at the end of the day, He’s not going to punish me for the things I’ve done wrong. Jesus already took that punishment. Instead, God will merely repeat what He wants me to do until I get it and finally practice it.
Like I said, God doesn’t want us to obey Him because we fear Him; He wants us to want to obey Him. He wants us to have that internal change of heart that surrenders our wills and embraces His – that surrenders what we want to do and embraces what He wants us to do. And it’s not for any other reason except that we love Him and want to obey Him.
It just seems consistent with God’s character to lead by inspiration rather than force; to treat us like human beings rather than puppets.