God’s grit: Love sticks

By Mark Thompson
Special to The PREVIEW
All I really need to know I learned in Sunday school.
I’m not talking about the details of crossing the Red Sea, the Boy with the five loaves of bread and two fishes, or when Moses saw the burning bush. What I’m talking about is, well, I need to give you the setting first — the cultural milieu, if you will.
I lived in a small town comprised largely of my family and a few hooligans. Our church was also comprised of my family and a few hooligans. It is worth noting that some of my family members were also the aforementioned hooligans.
Throughout my life, we attended this tiny, country church in rural Colorado. In fact, it was a Pentecostal Holiness Church (please allow those images to settle in). We faithfully attended Sunday morning service, Sunday night service and Wednesday night prayer meetings. The only observable difference was the length of the sermons. Not to put too fine a point on it, but Sunday and Wednesday nights felt a little more like someone was winging it. The moniker “prayer meeting” simply was church-speak for mid-week service.
Part of Sunday mornings included an activity known as Sunday school. This was the 45-minute class involving moral instruction from an adult to a room full of attentive children, or something to that effect. My Sunday school room was populated by myself, my brothers, Mike and Joel, and cousins, Kelly, Dara, Vance, Sharon Jo and Scary Larry (more on him another time). There were also at various times appearances by the likes of Kevin Greenlee, Randy Hanson and John Mark Eden.
Maybe one of the instructive keys is we were not angelic. For just one example, when it was time for water baptism (full immersion, thank you very much) in a cold, dark lake — the metaphor of “baptism into death” was not difficult to grasp when you were seriously uncertain whether you would survive a plunge into those waters), we walked as a single line into the water. We were holding hands, not so much as illustrative of the unity of the Body of Christ as for self-preservation. When John Mark’s bare toe touched the water, he exclaimed, “Holy (blank)! This water is cold!”
I suppose I should leave everyone else be and confess that I was no saint myself. Several years ago, when the wife and I were figuring out our stance on spanking, we talked to our parents. Now, mind you, spanking when we were children in the ‘60s was a common occurrence. Nowadays, it is as odd as a millennial without a tattoo or finding a doughnut fried in lard in Boulder, but in those days it was the norm. When we asked Becky’s dad if he had spanked her, the conversation went like this:
“Did Becky ever get a spanking?”
Her dad replied — somewhat indignantly, “She got one every time she needed it!”
“But Becky cannot remember ever being spanked.”
“That’s because she never needed it!”
It is rough being married to a saint. This is the conversation when we asked my mom the same question:
“Did Mark ever get a spanking?”
“I spanked him so often I had a real fear Social Services was going to take him out of our home. Sometimes he would get three or four spankings a day!”
All this is a setup for what it looked like in our Sunday school classroom. We had a few different teachers over the years, but one stands out as the “main” teacher who stuck with us, Linda Kay Eiler. I didn’t compute this until much later, but she was only in her early 20s back then. She was smart, funny, caring and vulnerable in a way that only a roomful of junior high boys could sense and exploit.
In this moment, I don’t know if we were mean or just mischievous. I do know that, on occasion, we made her cry. Let us let that soak in a moment: we caused our Sunday school teacher to collapse into tears. Now that I’ve had a career in education I can say this confidently: for every breakdown in public, there are 25 more done in private.
Here’s the thing. Linda kept coming back and kept trying to teach us lessons. And teach us she did. As I mentioned, what we learned from her is not the facts and minutiae of the Holy Scriptures. What we learned, absorbed as it were, was this gigantic, life-altering, stabilizing, important life-lesson: Love sticks. It sticks around, it sticks it out, it perseveres, it displays grit. Grit is a buzzword in education that essentially means, “courage and resolve; strength of character.”
I know God loves me. I know He doesn’t run off or take a break or even take a nap. I know He displays grit towards me. I know because I learned His love not in my intellect from a book or from a lecture. I learned God’s love from a human who kept showing up and displaying courageous love and affection, even if we were clearly undeserving.
My brother, Mike, died this last fall. At the reception after the service, I looked up and saw my Sunday school teacher coming through the door. She gave me the best hug and there were tears again, but this time the source was sentiment and wonder and joy.
All I really need to know I learned in Sunday school.

This story was posted on July 27, 2018.