If you’ve read my book, you know that we came up with the idea for Love First because of my own Sunday school experience as a child. I was a regular attendee for a decade, making me a Sunday school graduate at the top of the class (whoohoo!).
So imagine my surprise when Matt had to break it to me – in my late 20s – that the whole thing is actually about love. I literally had no idea this is what church was meant to offer. And I couldn’t remember one single time in my entire Sunday school experience where someone talked to me about love. Not a one. I remember hearing about repenting (I went to Catholic church in my early childhood), kneeling, dipping, sitting, bowing, waiting, silencing, pledging, dressing up, snuffing, all things that were trying to get me better at going to church, not better at being a loving, connected human in the world.
We’ve had the pleasure of worshiping at a church down the road from our new house, and have delighted in the sermons from the Rev. Deborah Warner that are rhythmic reminders to love ourselves and to love our neighbors. She has such a friendly way of speaking that even Danny, our youngest, manages to follow along.
Since it’s Epiphany season, we’ve revisited the story of the wise men bringing gifts to Jesus (which makes me wonder why we even bring it up on Christmas Eve). Last Sunday, Rev. Warner reminded us of the gifts for Jesus: gold, frankincense, and myhr, and how these gifts were fit for a king. Rev. Warner invited us to think about our gifts, and what we might bring to Jesus. “What is it that you have to offer?” she asked us.
And without skipping a beat, Danny looked up at Rev. Warner and said, “love.”
The rest of us in the pew giggled at his earnestness. He was so confident that he’d answered her question correctly.
It’s a shame Rev. Warner didn’t hear Danny say this because I think it would’ve made her heart sing to know that this sweet 6-year-old is already a disciple of Christ. Not in the making, but already here and ready to work. She might’ve also appreciated knowing that she’d achieved an almost impossible feat: preaching to grown-ups while also keeping the attention of a 6-year-old.
I felt a mix of emotions when Danny announced his gift is to love. First of all, I felt really proud (and maybe a bit relieved?). Matt and I spend a lot of time talking to our kids about love, so although Danny has forgotten every household rule we’ve ever told him, he managed to remember the thing about love. Phew.
But I felt a little envious of Danny too. How special to know that your gift to the world and to others is simply: to love. And to know that even at the tender age of 6, you have valuable gifts that can make a difference to others. I wonder what might’ve been stirred inside me if I knew this at his age.
Above all, though, I felt a deep sense of gratitude. You can’t build a community rooted in love all on your own, after all. There are teachers who foster a warm and loving environment, the parishioners who extend love from classrooms into the pews, and the other parents who bring their children to Sunday school with Danny. Through so many people’s efforts we created a community bound together by our love and by our duty to love others. We are a stronger family because of it, and I believe Danny is a stronger human because of it, too.
I don’t know what the future holds for our little guy. Whether he goes on to do something that resembles an agent of love, or something less so. But no matter what he does or what he becomes, I know that he will do it through this lens of love by putting love first, before all those other things that can sometimes get in the way.