Andrée Seu Peterson: Discomfort zone

MARY REICHARD, HOST: Today is Monday, August 6th. Good morning! This is The World and Everything in It from member-supported WORLD Radio. I’m Mary Reichard.

NICK EICHER, HOST: And I’m Nick Eicher. If you are a volunteer, you are part of an important, yet — regrettably — small force.

Andrée Seu Peterson raised her hand to volunteer and speaks honestly about the experience.

We adapted this commentary from Andree’s book Normal Kingdom Business, which we published in 2002.

ANDRÉE SEU PETERSON: I had no intention of being anything but a warm body from 11 AM to 12:30 PM in the “4-year-olds” Sunday school class at my church. There was a hole that wanted plugging for a year’s commitment—a need for “teachers” and “helpers” that had been announced mercilessly in the bulletin, until the steady drumbeat of call to obligation had become an intolerable tug on the conscience.

In any case, others had taught my kids in Sunday School, so the logic of it was inescapable. I chose the wallflower position of “helper”—sharpening pencils and clearing goldfish snack crumbs off the table.

The reader must not be too condemning here. I had been badly burned years earlier in a valiant attempt to fulfill a lifelong ambition to be a school teacher. There are a couple of crucial ingredients that crackerjack teachers have—namely, the qualities of “authority” and “presence in the moment.” Those are traits I—a hopeless Walter Mitty—notoriously lack.

I recognize two schools of thought about serving others. One is that the Creator has endowed us with certain gifts, and that we are responsible for these alone. If everyone just does what he is good at, the body of Christ should be a well-oiled machine. The other school of thought is that one should be willing to step out of one’s “comfort zone” and serve where there is a need. I realize I was warily submitting to the second view, for better or for worse.

One must always remember when entering a classroom of children that they will have a different agenda than the teacher’s. The teacher may be thinking how interesting it is that there are nine fruit of the Spirit, or that the tabernacle was first located in Shiloh. But it is a rare 4-year-old who will share his enthusiasm.

By week three of my new career I started to learn some of the 22 names. Distinct personalities emerged from the faceless blob of potty-trained humanity. That was the good news. The bad news is that the kids were in control of the class. I began to get butterflies in my stomach on Friday afternoons in dread of Sunday mornings.

I needed to do something desperate. I phoned Becky, a fellow church member whose classroom kids were rumored to be pliant and docile as Reuben’s cherubs. We met at Barnes and Noble. I came with pen and paper, eager to plunder her best games, time-fillers, and strategies; she came with messages about reaching hearts and getting down to eye level.

I am learning a lot in Sunday School. Last week a girl ran up and hugged me, which changed everything. Also, I bought two puppets at a craft fair, borrowed the pastor’s daughter’s puppet stand, and discovered the effectiveness of one degree of separation between me and the audience when communicating a Bible story.

This doesn’t mean I’m signing up for next year. But then again, you never know what God will do.

For WORLD Radio, I’m Andrée Seu Peterson.

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

Like this story?

To hear a lot more like it, subscribe to The World and Everything in It via iTunes, Overcast, Stitcher, or Pocket Casts.







Pocket Casts

(Requires a fee)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.