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!
Mica, Mica, Mica. Have you considered the possibility that your job is not to sit in judgment of your fellow class members (a point system? really?) but rather to help them? If your understanding of the gospel is really so superior to that of others, why not contribute to the discussion and enlighten them? You are a PhD candidate in counseling psychology; your research is primarily in the area of multicultural sensitivity. That would imply that you have some interest in trying to help people. But maybe not: “As for me and my house, we will serve ourselves.” That is a sad, sad statement, which someone with your intelligence and education would do well to reconsider. “Enter to learn, go forth to serve”–it’s not a bad motto. I encourage you to consider it.
A few other thoughts for you. In addition to contributing to the class discussion, you might consider trying to learn from it. There is such a thing as spiritual knowledge, and some of your less-educated classmates may well be PhD candidates in that discipline. You won't know unless you stop judging and start listening–not to spot comments that are racist, sexist, homophobic, or historically incorrect but to learn what certain humble servants of the Lord might have to say about faith, prayer, or charity (pay special attention to that last one).
As C. S. Lewis wrote, "“It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest, most uninteresting person you can talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship. . . . It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and the circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all of our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics. There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal.”
Finally, some advice from Nephi. I encourage you to give his words some serious thought: "O the vainness, and the frailties, and the foolishness of men! When they are learned they think they are wise, and they hearken not unto the counsel of God, for they set it aside, supposing they know of themselves, wherefore, their wisdom is foolishness and it profiteth them not." (2 Nephi 9:28.)
Please consider these things. I mean them in a spirit of helpfulness for someone with enormous potential who can do much good if she'll think about what might really be important.
Or then again, Sunday school might just be a lost cause . . .
This is great Mica. I do something similar. The tricky part is that once a month I am the teacher, so I have to figure out what to do when class members make homophobic, racist, sexist, or historically inaccurate comments. It can be exhausting. Keep fighting the good fight, sister!
I love your solution, Mica! What a great way to turn the bad stuff in Church into good!
Sounds like a most excellent game!
Sunday School can be excruciatingly, especially when it is peppered with potentially offensive comments, and I think that approaching it with open curiosity instead of prejudgment is a fantastic practice to develop. However, I think it might be more beneficial to track positive moments as well as negative. What we attend to has a huge impact on our perception, so I think adding some positives (25 pt. bonus for inspired questions? 10 pts. for insightful comments?) would make this more effective.