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Thank You Mario, But Our Princess Is In Another Castle: Long Term Planning With Children

Ultimately we will be defined by who we are at our core. As a culture, as a faith community, and as individuals we will be noted for our primary responses to these challenges: how we overcame selfishness or what we did when we hit obstacles. Most importantly, we will be remembered by how we nurtured the children in our lives. How can we plan so that our legacy is one of faithfulness for the generations?

Raising children, your own or those bonus children that God sends to you, is the ultimate long term project. There is always the next phase, the next step, or the next level to strive toward while enjoying the stage you are currently experiencing. It is a bit like growing tomatoes from seed. Children are a long season crop.

My vocation as a mother, grandmother, and minister for children has kept me always seeking out new ways to inspire young people. How to engage their souls and attract their minds. I have followed a lot of bunny trails in the process, pursuing activities and fads that didn't seem to bear much fruit. Mercifully, those have faded from my memory. Mostly.

I learned something deep and truthful from one of those bunny trails. It was an old, classic video game that was created in the 1980s.

My children, like most children of that time, were truly fascinated with the Nintendo game called Mario Brothers. They enjoyed helping two computer generated plumbers navigate a variety of landscapes and hazards in order to save the princess. The sound effects from this game are now considered to be iconic. The entire genre of home video games stands on the shoulders of this giant. It has spawned movies, television series, and countless variations of the game itself. What I thought was a fad has become a generational memory.

After what seemed like an eternity, my children advanced through this game and were on the cusp of achieving the goal of rescuing the princess. And one day, it happened. The little plumber on the screen reached the castle and the princess. Except that, oops. Nope. The message on the screen read, "Thank you Mario. But our princess is in another castle!"

Wait. What? The princess is...What? Come on! Do you know how long it took them to get to this mythical princess castle place? What is wrong with you people? I was alone in my indignation, however. You see, I had it all wrong. I thought the goal was to reach the castle and rescue the princess. Game over. Success. Triumph even. But I had missed the point.

The goal was to keep moving forward. Continue the mission. Persevere for the long term. The phrase they use now is "level up". I am assuming that is a video game reference about moving up to the next level. I have a hard time finding anything positive to say about video games, but they do encourage children to meet the next challenge and not quit. I am absolutely certain that the video game companies do this for purely mercenary reasons, but still the lesson is in there. Don't give up just because you made it to this level, go to the next.

Here is the essential ingredient when discipling children: there is always another level, another lesson, another challenge, another victory. Bearing that in mind, then, it is important to make long term plans that will lead us to excellence in this essential area of life. Children matter for a lifetime. We continue to work to teach them the ways of living our faith. We encourage them to move forward. Especially when it comes to their faith journey.

We are responsible for taking our children beyond the sweet stories of baby Jesus and helping them make room in their hearts for the wilderness and the cross. We introduce them to the giants of our faith that stood before tyrants and continued to proclaim that our God reigns. We marvel at the miracles as we retell them to our little ones. What joy!

When do we begin to teach the harder lessons? At what point in their development do we tell children about the meaning and significance of Judas' betrayal? The brutality of a Roman crucifixion? The attempted murder of David as he played music for King Saul? The timing of teaching is as important as teaching in the first place. If we take Christian education seriously for children, and I do, we need to be aware of how children process information and how they may perceive some of the darker events in the life of Christ. As we teach there are several things about children that we should bear in mind.

For example:

  1. Be careful with images. Very recently a young mother recounted a story of taking her four year old to Vacation Bible School at a friend's church. All was well until day three when the lesson was about the crucifixion. The coloring sheet he brought home was quite graphic with blood dripping from the nails and crown of thorns. The child was four years old. He was very upset after VBS ended and asked his mother why Jesus' friends would hurt Him. The ensuing conversations were difficult for the mother and the child. I would like to know more details. But, under any circumstances, the details of the crucifixion are not appropriate for young children. When I teach this age group, I say that Jesus died and was brought back to life by a miracle. I focus on the resurrection at all age levels. I teach the difficult aspects of crucifixion beginning in the sixth grade and no earlier. And then I make sure I have a lot of time to answer questions and allow for discussion. And then I bring the topic back to resurrection. This miracle holds the power of God.

  2. Remember your childhood. We are all better teachers and parents when we remember what it was like to be a child. Small, vulnerable, and completely at the mercy of adults and their decisions. Be kind, thoughtful, in control, and patient. These are children. They are not miniature adults and they are doing their best. Our job is to help them grow, not to train them to be shorter versions of ourselves. It is possible to be kind and also in charge of things. Look at the world through their eyes and their experiences. They do not know many of the things that you and I think are common knowledge. Children need mentors, not door mats or drill sergeants. Stay in control of yourself and your classroom. Do it with the same love that Jesus did when He insisted that the children be brought to Him. Such perfect love can be offered to our little ones.

Enjoy passing the gospel to our young. It is a privilege and a sacred trust. In the end, they are what matters most. #childrenaremoreimportantthanadults

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