23rd Possum

By Reba Phelps

If you are truly a holy person then you are aware that Sunday School is a very crucial part of being a good Southern Baptist Church member. If you have in fact, attended any Sunday School at any church you will probably know the sinking, dreadful feeling you feel when the teacher asks for a volunteer to read out loud. This is not a Baptist-specific issue.

All is well with our souls until we skim the scriptures making sure there is not a family lineage that is six miles long and contains mostly multiple consonants. Can we buy a vowel, please? What about the city names? These names will have even the most eloquent speakers blushing, tongue tied and sweating.

The true holiest of holy Sunday School goers know not to make eye contact with the teacher if there appears to be questionable names or locations in those scriptures. Some stealthy Sunday School teachers know this age old trick. So, they will write scripture chapter and verses on a piece of paper and hand them out prior to the lesson.

Kind of like drawing names at Christmas. You have no idea what you have until you open it.

There are just so many unspoken rules when it comes to attending church and especially raising children in church. Most of it may be self-imposed but if you are going to try and be holy you should know the struggle is real.

One of the major self-induced stresses that I suffered through was wanting my oldest child to be baptized at the proper time. So, when is the proper time? This of course, would be when all of her other friends did it. We sat there Sunday after Sunday watching other children in her Sunday School class get baptized. I would gently remind her that this was her duty and if she wanted to see us in the after life she must get dunked.

I even silently wondered if she loved Jesus.

One Sunday we strolled into church a little tardy and noticed that yet again someone was getting baptized. As soon as my daughter saw this she looked up at me and said, “Ok, if they let him in there I know they will let anyone in there.”

She was carrying her own stress thinking she was not good enough to enjoy the baptismal waters. The additional mom-threat did not help the sensitive situation either.

By the time my second child was born I totally left the decision to be handled by her and Jesus. I should have subscribed to this theory with the first one but I chose the holy path of stressing over the situation and trying to fit in with the other holier parents with perfect kids.

My youngest went to Vacation Bible School for 5 years in a row marking the same box in reference to confessing her faith…“still considering”. She took her own sweet time and we all survived.

A few weeks ago one of my close friend’s daughters was visiting with me and my daughters. I was sitting in the living room chair and she was sitting on the ottoman asking as many seven year old type questions as her precious mind could conjure up. She interrupted herself when she noticed a small stack of books on the fireplace. One of them caught her eye.

Without hesitation she picked it up and began reading. I sat and marveled at this sight because I was there when she born and now she was reading comfortably at a very high level. It was simply a joyous moment watching my special little friend read.

The book that was in her arms reach was a Max Lucado book called, “Safe in the Shepherd’s Arms”. The introduction included the same words that can be found in the 23rd Psalm. She read these words with so much excellency of speech that it was almost as she had written the words herself. So eloquent and precise.

Until….

She concluded the passage by saying, “The 23rd Possum!” I could not contain my laughter. She looked at me with a confused look asking what she said wrong. I felt extremely guilty for laughing uncontrollably and then having her recreate it so I could video it and show it to her mother. After the incident was well documented I wondered if I had inadvertently caused undue Biblical stress on the sweet child.

It got me thinking…Is it just a crazy notion that we are supposed to laugh, enjoy church and all of the amazing things that accompany it? The people. The music. The message. The mistakes and imperfections shared by all of us.

Or, is it supposed to be filled with so many regimented rules, restrictions and regulations that are so unobtainable than no one would ever be perfect enough for the pearly gates? When in doubt over your self-imposed church stresses just remember Christ died for all of us.

“So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.” – 1 Corinthians 13:13