Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Church can be like Broccoli

Originally published in The Bluffton Packet on Jan 10, 2007

Many local seniors have received their college acceptance letters in the mail. Seeing their excitement at the next stage of life takes me back to my freshman year.

What stands out in my mind isn't the thrill of the knowledge that I acquired (maybe it'll sink in when I finally finish paying for it), but the freedom that came with being away from home for the first time. It's when you realize that no one's going to tell you to turn off your light and go to bed, do your homework on time, or wash the dirty laundry that's in your closet.

I'm sure everyone has their tales of staying up three days in a row eating only Papa John's pizza and drinking Mountain Dew, sliding papers under a professor's door seconds before a deadline, or days when going to Wal-Mart to buy new underwear just seemed easier than that long walk to the Laundromat. My tale of freedom is about broccoli.

As a kid I was the drama-queen vegetable choker. There's at least one in every family -- while some kids are happy to eat their green beans and broccoli quietly, there's always one child who believes his parents are killing him with this plot they call "a nutritious diet." Eating vegetables involves taking a miniscule bite ... gag ... inhaling half a glass of milk ... shudder ... and by the time he's finished, everyone else at the table would swear they've witnessed an exorcism.

Bless my mother who put up with this charade for years, never giving in to my pleas of sudden allergies to green beans or my insistence on new studies linking the consumption of broccoli to cancer. I don't know if I ever told her this, but mom's patience did pay off when I was amazed to find myself scooping broccoli onto my plate in the college cafeteria. "But you hate broccoli!" I told myself. And yet I knew deep down that this was the first of many things that I would do not because I particularly wanted, but because I knew it was best for me.

The funny thing is that the more I saw the link between eating healthy and being healthy, the more enthusiastic I became for the salad bar. But what does my newfound love of broccoli have to do with Sunday mornings?

As a youth minister, I am constantly amazed that well-meaning parents will encourage their kids to get involved in baseball, swimming, gymnastics, golf, tennis, music, scouting and every other activity until their schedules are overflowing. However, when it comes to church, many parents hesitate. They're tired, too busy or they don't want to "force their religion on their kids."

Now, please, don't write me off as Grandma on the rocking chair lamenting the lack of religion among the young folk today. I want to suggest that God, broccoli, church on Sunday and your personal happiness are actually all connected. I want to suggest that amid our busy schedules and everyday dysfunction we're missing something. In the Gospel of Mark, Jesus tells his followers, "The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath," Mark 2:27. Sunday worship isn't another activity that cuts breakfast short. That one hour spent at church helps bring the other hundred and sixty-seven hours of the week into focus.

Like eating broccoli, regularly attending church can take some getting used to. However, I challenge you that if you make attending church on Sunday your New Year's resolution, you'll find that even though you're adding an activity, life will get less complicated. Instead of focusing on the day-to-day drudgery, you'll be taking time to focus on the eternity waiting for you. And bring your kids! All of the sports, lessons and hobbies that they're involved in are certainly helping them become more educated. However, there's no lesson more important for a child than the fact that they are created and loved by God and meant to be with Him in heaven.

Habits children acquire at home will stay with them longer than they stay under their parents' roof. It's good if they're 19 and can play "The Entertainer" on the piano thanks to the lessons they had. It's even better if they're 19 and still going to church because they were encouraged to do so when they were younger.

Learning to eat green vegetables as a child will keep you healthy. Learning that God is in charge and has eternal paradise prepared for you when this life is over will make you happier! Now, if only learning to do laundry was that simple ...

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