These days Sunday school is tough for me; I often get bored and sometimes I even get annoyed or frustrated. Sometimes I don’t like the way the lesson is being taught or comments from other class members. If I’m annoyed and or frustrated enough in class I will shut down, or tune out, or leave… yikes! I always have an e-book handy as a distraction; jumping on the wifi and checking social media is a pretty common alternative activity for me. Between mediocre lessons, sexist, racist, or homophobic comments from the peanut gallery or just good old fashioned ignorance, gospel doctrine can really raise my blood pressure!
I’m working on my PhD in psychology and my day job is a psychotherapist. One of the main goals I have for clients is for them to experience fewer self-defeating emotions and more self-promoting emotions. Self-defeating emotions are extremely unpleasant and lead us to destructive outcomes (whether that be clinical or behavioral). Self-promoting emotions lead to constructive outcomes. Curiosity is a self-promoting emotion; when we feel curious we can operate functionally, we can make constructive decisions.
A few weeks ago I attempted to implement the strategy that I often teach to clients, I decided I would adopt an attitude of curiosity about Sunday school. My inner-dialog up until that point had been something like this “I know that Sunday school is going to be bad, the lesson will be dumb, and people will say offensive things, it’s going to suck!” So it was no shock that, when I got to class, if I couldn’t distract myself, or just skip it all together, I would stew in my misery. It was awful, not super productive, and not good for my blood pressure. I just don’t need that kind of stress in my life, and especially not at church. So put my preaching to practice and attempted to change my experience of Sunday school. I actively disputed my previous thoughts and replaced them with more helpful thoughts. The following are examples of thoughts that align with curiosity.
“I wonder what amusing thing will be said in class today?” “I wonder if anyone will say anything offensive to my sensibilities?” “I wonder if that one obnoxious guy will be in class and make some benevolent sexist joke??” “Ten bucks I’m right!” “Won’t it be interesting to find out!”
I basically turned my Sunday school attendance into a game. If I predicted correctly I rewarded myself; one Sunday it was with a redbox rental, and the next week I took the night from working on my dissertation. I was amused during class instead of angry and I got a reward . . . it was a win win! Since the first couple rounds of my “gospel doctrine game” I have expanded the model. I get ten points for every racist comment, ten for sexism, and an additional 10 for anything homophobic, and a bonus 25 for any incorrect historical fact taught by the teacher (please come through on this one Bro. Jones!). At the end of class I total my points, 25 points = a small prize, 50 = slightly bigger, and so on. Obviously I have to fund my own prizes so they can be too extravagant, but it has really transformed my experience in Sunday school from a negative to a positive one.
You may be thinking that this is disrespectful or inappropriate, and you may be right. If you want to continue to be bored/annoyed/angry in Sunday school be my guest, but as for me and my house, we will serve ourselves, through curiosity!
Don’t knock it till ya try it!