The three year olds stood and shouted the song, twirling and swaying to the happy beat, but the smiling boy I saw in the nursery every week sat crumpled in the teacher’s lap, his eyes swollen from tears. Not even goldfish could persuade him to perk up. Its the first year at VBS for the three year olds. The kids that were babies just a blink ago, are now students, learning how to be without mom and dad in a classroom. They’re hearing about Jesus with their own ears instead of just from their parents’ arms, or maybe for the first time.
I peeked in on his class throughout the day to see if he would find confidence in his new surroundings, but the first day for him was a tearful one.
When I saw him on day two, he was tentative, clutching mom’s hand like a loveworn blankie, his face set in the stubborn lines of a pout. When I asked if he was ready for VBS, his mom gave a subtle shake of the head, “we’re not up for VBS today. But we’re really excited about coming to school.” My heart pinched a little. The very word that had become such a source of joy in my home had become a word they needed to avoid. As I walked away I prayed to myself, “Lord, help him to have a good day. Help his mom to be strong.”
Sometimes the very things that should bring us joy become triggers of anxiety in our lives.
As we skip along the cobble path of milestones, we eagerly anticipate the next big thing. For three year olds, its big kid panties, mornings away from parents, and eventually preschool. But we feel transitions as adults too, where our realities collide with our expectations. That gorgeous new house we just bought means we have to part with the pile of money we’ve been saving, and say goodbye to the old porch swing. The promotion we’ve worked so hard for marks a shift in the dynamics with relationships at work, as we step out of the shoes of co-worker and into the uncomfortable new ones as boss. The vacation we’ve awaited all year, comes and goes with a flourish, leaving us with unpacked bags and melancholy.
Sometimes its the little things that cause us stress, like bringing our kids to VBS when they make it crystal clear that they do not want to be there. Maybe its as simple as feeling self conscious in the back of church, when everyone else seems to have found their way there.
We look at the disciple Peter who also struggles with fear and doubt in the midst of a storm. But God meets him in his doubting, saying, “Come.” When Peter sinks, Jesus helps him up and asks, “Why did you doubt?”
Jesus meets Peter with patience, reassurance, and strength in his moment of weakness. Peter not only walks again, but Jesus empowers him to become a great leader.
At the close of VBS on the second day, I went to the boy’s classroom to see how he was doing. His face was bright again. He told me about how he loved to go to worship, and he showed me a tower he built for his mom that reached a foot above his head. I’m so glad his mom found the strength to bring him back. That he was able to get through the struggle to find the joy on the other side.
We all have rough days, rough weeks, maybe even a rough year that we’d like to put behind us. But God strengthens us and walks us through it. He brings us hope in our struggles. And as we show up, and worship him, he brings us joy again. Joy, strength, and hope to help us build towers that point to him.