Every holiday season, I gathered books, songs and props, determined to visit the classroom and talk about why and how our family celebrates Jesus' birth, death and resurrection. But I'd always get the jitters. I knew had to walk a fine line because I didn't want to proselytize. "This is what we believe," I'd repeat. At the same time, I did want my listeners to grasp the message. Staying in balance took creativity and prayer.
One year, for example, I brought in a small wooden box. Asking the kids to identify a few symbols that represent certain holiday, I told them that eggs and bunnies didn't really have much to do with what our family believes about Easter.
"I have four better symbols inside this box," I said. Opening the box, I took out the small clay-brown baby Jesus from our nativity scene that had been crafted in Peru.
"That's the one you brought in at Christmas!" one kid shouted.
"You're right," I answered. "At Easter, we celebrate what happened to that Jewish baby when He grew up."
I told them about His love for the poor, His healing and His teaching. Next, I pulled out a thorn and described the beating and the taunting He endured. A piece of wood came out next, allowing me to explain His death on a cross. Because more than half the class was Jewish, I mentioned Passover to illuminate Jesus' sacrifice. And finally, I pulled out a stone and described Mary's experience at the empty tomb.
Despite my pre-classroom bout of nerves, I always left thrilled and thankful. As usual, my children's Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, and secular classmates sat spellbound, listening eagerly to the "old, old story." In the days and weeks after my visit, my sons faithfully did the hard work of following up, answering questions and telling a few more stories from the Bible.
One year, the principal showed up before my Christmas talk and sat in the back of the classroom. I guessed she was probably there to make sure I wasn't crossing any lines, and rightfully so. Thankfully, that was the year I brought in a book of poetry written by Langston Hughes. As I read a poem about the nativity aloud to the kids, I could see the emotion on the principal's face; the whole community knew she adored Langston Hughes. The school had just finished a weeklong focus on Hughes' poetry, but hadn't featured this beautiful, Christ-centered song of worship in their curriculum. Thanks to Langston Hughes' poem, I was able to share God's gift of love in Jesus with a class of 20 unchurched students, two teachers, and one principal.
Won't you approach your child's teacher this Easter and ask if you or your child can talk about what your family believes in her classroom? Tell her you'll do it respectfully; hopefully she knows and trusts you by now because you've been doing the hard work of prayerful, diplomatic service all year long. Besides, you and your children do have the right to talk about your faith in the schools -- check out all the resources from Gateways To Better Education. It's time to tell our nation's public school children the story of love that we celebrate in our families. So many of them will never hear it unless we do.