It is fitting that on Father’s Day I share a memory of a moment long ago with my Dad. I’m not sure how I remember this, or even if I am remembering this correctly. I have a terrible memory! Stories of my childhood are fuzzy visions, and I am uncertain if they are reality or made-up!
Our family attended a small country church on a dusty road near our home. Every Sunday morning, we saw the same people sitting in the same church pew. (We all sat towards the back of the sanctuary, of course, like good Lutherans do.) I remember being terribly bored, and finding creative ways to stay entertained so I would not have to actively participate in church. For my very young self, this church thing was difficult to understand and appreciate.
My memory occurred on one such Sunday morning. We stood by our hard, cold church pews and read the same Brief Order for Confession and Forgiveness from the old green hymnal. I’ve said these words hundreds of times:
…we confess that we are in bondage to sin and cannot free ourselves. We have sinned against you in thought, word and deed, by what we have done and by what we have left undone. We have not loved you with our whole heart; we have not loves our neighbors as ourselves…
The community rattled off these words. My arrogant, youthful self felt that I had not committed any of these offenses this week. So, I whispered to my Dad: “I shouldn’t have to say this. I didn’t do these things!” This was partly to be defiant, partly to test my Dad’s reaction. I expected him to scold me and make me participate. Or to angrily explain to me how I had, in fact, committed all of these sins that past week many times over. But he simply whispered back to me, “Then don’t say it.”
I was floored. What? It is OK for me to define my own communication with God? Faith can be more than reciting words from a green hymnal once a week?!?
What made this particular moment so powerful? It was probably one of the earliest of life’s moments where I understood that I have a role in relationship with God. Similar moments continued – still continue – to show an active, living faith, defined by far more than the recitation of words every Sunday morning.
As this writing posts on this particular Sunday night, I am at overnight “Taste of Camp” with my 6-year-old. If you know me well, you know that this camp was and continues to be an important part of my own personal faith story. This camp was one of the first places where I felt safe to share my faith. This is where I discovered that including God in human relationship makes that relationship strong. This is where I overcame my introvert tendencies to sing silly songs and lead worship in front of children and peers.
I am thrilled that my own son can come to camp! This year, before first grade, he can only come overnight with an adult. But next year, he can come on his own. I am excited to think about the experiences he will have here – and how I can re-live camp by watching my son!
It’s not that I want to force my glory days on him; our time today in this place set apart is not about me. It is actually not even about him, but about how our God can use us for his good.
I don’t know if this camp will be as meaningful for my kids as it was for me (and my husband). In the very least, I want to take advantage of the time we have together here – here in this place where the Spirit moves in, around and amongst – to help my son take ownership of his own relationship with God. For the relationship he experiences with God is not what I dictate it to be, and it is certainly not what we recite from a hymnal.