Sunday, July 29, 2012

The Annual VBS Dilemma

Today someone asked me if I would teach the nursery class in vacation Bible school this year.

Bring on the tortured mental cogitations.

When I was 15, good-natured old Alvin Helmuth asked me if I would teach Bible school.  I nearly swooned.  SOMEONE had ASKED me to TEACH.


to TEACH!!

I have a feeling Alvin went home and told Mary, and she said, "Ach, Alvin, didn't you know Dorcas is only 15??  She can't even drive yet.  And she's such a silly little thing.  Ach, I don't know.  Maybe you should talk to Amos about it."

And Alvin said, "Ahhh, Mary, she'll be fine."

Well, I wasn't exactly fine.  I had a class of wild little boys who turned and ran out the back door when I turned my back, and who squeezed the Oreo cookies and hollered that the poop was coming out.  I thought they were a bunch of little heathens and a thoroughly lost cause.

They would not listen to me.

Well, in thinking back, I wouldn't have listened to me either, but instead of recognizing the problem, I poured out my heart to my friend Millie after class, that kids these days just weren't taught to RESPECT AUTHORITY, while Dad sat out in the pickup waiting to take me home, seeing as how I didn't have my license yet.


Then I went on to teach every summer for the next 8 years, and after that first year things went pretty well, seeing as how there was no direction to go but up.

I didn't teach Bible school again until many years later when we had been to Canada and back, and I didn't have a baby any more.

That time I had the nursery class, with 21 students, including a little girl who would jump up and take off running for the parking lot during our outside story time, and I had to leave the ninety and nine to go after the one.

VBS lasted for two weeks back then.

It was during harvest.

I just about went crazy.

I remember one evening I came home worn to a frazzle and found all the supper things still spread out on the island.  The guys were lounging around the living room reading the newspaper.

I unleashed all my frustration into a speech that would have intimidated John Brown.  "Just so you KNOW, when I am off all evening teaching BIBLE SCHOOL, I do not APPRECIATE coming home at 9:30 and finding SUPPER all over the KITCHEN when you are perfectly CAPABLE. . . ." and so on.

I think I've taught a time or two since then.

This is what I've found: we are all much much happier if I stay home and keep things going so my fine flock of talented children can go teach, than if I teach myself.

Some years I've had three teaching.  This year Ben and Emily have signed up.

And they still need teachers.

So Alvin Helmuth 2.0 asked me.

I feel like I ought to.  My youngest child is 13, for goodness' sake. Why could I NOT?

Other moms do it, moms with more and younger children, and more action going on, and just home from trips, and leaving soon, and company coming, and gardens, and canning.

So, seriously, why can't I?

Well.  For one thing, I do not handle stress well.  I teeter constantly on the verge of depression.  When I have too much going on or am away from home every night, with no one picking up the slack in my absence, I feel like my head is going to explode, and all my relationships suffer, and it takes a long time to undo the damage.

Yet the word "ought" blinks above me in neon lights.  And I feel the wordless rebuke of those spiritual moms who just teach because it needs to be done, and smile cheerfully, and stay up til midnight doing green beans, and apparently trust God more than I do.

And yet.  I know my life, my limitations, my history.

Can I say NO knowing that God and my husband know the full story, and just rest in that without trying to vindicate myself to the rest of the world?

P.S. Next morning: I think this is why it's such a dilemma: because VBS is a cause I believe in, and someone needs to do it, and I get very irritated when there's a job to do and people take off with a dismissive, "Nope.  Can't do it," knowing good and well it means more work for everyone else.  Well, duh.  There's plenty I could do to make it more feasible for someone else, like cooking supper for them.  As my Facebook friend Gertrude said, "Sometimes when you can't do a task, you can enable someone else or make their week easier: fix a casserole for another teacher's family to have for supper, send cookies home with all the teachers,snap a bushel of beans, etc. -- or whatever you do well, you can do for others."


  1. Something I read recently that has been helpful during these dilemmas: It is Jacques Ellul's Meditation on Inutility.

  2. Sometimes it is good to look at things from the other side. So you might ask yourself, knowing your own deep faith and good heart: Can TRULY I say YES knowing that God and my husband know the full story? DOES GOD WANT ME TO vindicate myself to the rest of the world?

    Always listen to your heart. The heart listens to the words of the world and faith.

  3. Absolutely you can say no! God and your husband are the only ones who matter! :-)

  4. Karen Layman7/30/2012 9:02 AM

    Oh boy.....don't get me started. YES YOU CAN SAY NO.....and not only can need to! This is rather a soap box of mine so prepare yourself.....when people minister within their giftings they are energized even while exhausted. I used to do "everything" too because "someone needs to do it and if I don't it won't get done".....and while doing some of those things felt bitter and all "stomping my foot" inside. Not pretty. Not how God intended it. My friend Mary who is about 10 years ahead of me in life (and has a lot of the same tendencies as I) offered me this bit of wisdom....."it is not your job to do everything....if you do everything you are taking the blessing away from someone else who maybe just isn't as quick to volunteer or needs a little push to accept the position". So often I have seen "church" push people into positions that they are not gifted in (and I know the argument about doing all things through Christ who gives me strength and all that....and I believe it....but still)....and then wonder why those people are discouraged and burned out!!! DUH!!! AND....nothing is ever to be gained by comparing yourself to those high energy types or have kids and teach and still get their green beans done...more power to them....God bless 'em. Why don't you stay home.....keep your family running smoothly (it's not like your family is not contributing and doing it's share to help with VBS!)....and perhaps make a hotdish or something for one of those Mom's who is doing it all.
    If you need any more encouragement facebook me....I am only getting started on how I feel about this subject! LOL

  5. Such honesty is refreshing!! Yes, Dorcas, you can and should say "no!" The last person who commented must be of a kindred spirit--what she said was right on!

  6. It is refreshing to see someone else who needs to say no sometimes to things that other people seem to be able to breeze through. Often I feel like I need to do things just because I feel obligated, but I know in the end I will feel like I am drowning. I end up being overwhelmed and depressed and that sort of thing isn't helpful to me or anyone who happens to be around me!

  7. I say definitely protect your head from exploding. Say no and have no regrets. God wants you to stay home and do the beans and write more funny stuff when you have time.

  8. It's so very difficult for me to say "no"! I have taught VBS since I was 15. That happens to be 42 years. (I know I missed a year or two in my "mid-life".) And here I am still teaching and every year I have tears and stress and tears and stress--and yet, I feel guilty when contemplating saying "no", especially when we need teachers so deperately and other people are "too busy". Stand up and say "NO!", Dorcas! (And then please remind me next summer of what I've written here.)

    ~Karen S.

  9. I am in these same shoes right now! :( Except, my husband signed us up to be the assembly leaders {which we did last year and HE loved} It involves memorizing "short skit stuff" and I am awful at memorizing! :(
    Our church has lost a lot of members in the last few months and most everyone has a job, so I really feel like I need to do my part...and this position really should be a husband/wife team.
    But I am dreading is SO not my gift!! :P
    Wish me well..and maybe next year, I'll say NO! ;)

  10. It just has to be true we all "go there" in one way or another, isn't it? I appreciate you putting it into words, Dorcas! Now, a comment off topic: For some time I've been seeing a problem with your home page loading the area above the About Me title in the right-hand column. Do you have a geek friend who can fix that for you?

  11. I have an awful time saying no even when I need to. And I have learned something that doesn't make it painless, but it does help LOTS. That "wives submit to your husbands" clause in the Word, is a protective mechanisim God put in place for us. Our DH is the authority in our lives and sometimes that means he might limit us in ways we didn't really want, but sometimes he is our out. If he loves you and God and understand this will not be a good thing he can tell you not to, and you can honestly say, "he says I shouldn't" and thus the buck stops with your authority!!! Whew! Sweet relief!

  12. My best friend pointed out that some of the church work that it's hard to get volunteers for might just not need to be done, that it might be an indication that it's time for that program to die and a fresh one to grow up. That released me from guilt. Our church killed VBS a few years. Now we serve a free meal to the community every week and it has been such a blessed experience and rarely are we pleading for volunteers to help.

    Thank you for your honesty about depression. I admire your spirit so much.

  13. Dorcas, I feel strongly that individuals are called to different ministries and the Holy Spirit can lead us into the jobs where we are most effective. So we do need to learn to say "no". But just as importantly, individual church communities are called to different ministries. Our medium-sized Mennonite church is "called" to VBS. It is a really big deal here with men taking vacation from jobs to come and teach, one member annually flying home to PA from California to teach, and families scheduling their vacations around helping with VBS. It isn't hard to find 60 or 70 volunteers. For decades we have had around 200 children from the larger community, many of them with no church home, who spend the morning with us for a week of Bible school.

    Our church is sometimes criticized by conference leaders for not having a vision for church growth but when I see that crowd of children I know that this is one case where we are being obedient to the leading of the Spirit and fulfilling our corporate mission. It is easier for us to pull this off than so many other good churches who excel in other ministries.

    But I know this isn't my individual calling. Although I am deeply committed to this effort because I was first introduced to Anabaptist teaching as as a junior high student invited to by a friend to come with him to VBS, I don't teach. But I am called to build the VBS web site and the database to keep track of the kid registration and then to go run errands to the doughnut shop. Who is to say this is less important?

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  15. Wonderful to get all your perspectives. Thanks.
    Kathy, what happened in the area above the "About me" was this: I had signed up for Google Ads, and that's where they showed up. but then Google abruptly pulled the ads because they suspected I was doing something unethical--clicking on my own ads or something. I didn't contest the charges and the area remains blank.

  16. Surely I wouldn't (couldn't) be one of the spiritual moms who are teaching VBS w/green beans to look after and younger children than yours?!! Surely not. :)

    I like it that you can talk about this. I hope I am not feeling the red blinking "ought" about teaching VBS at 50. I have not learned to say no and actually thrive on the wildness of a week like mine, somehow. But everything suffers and yes. I know about heads exploding. I will do it and then crash for the next 2 weeks.

    Your children can go in your stead this year. And I really like Gertrude's wisdom. I think I would guage my answer by how huge the need is. Is there TRULY no one else who can do it? Nursery class is the hardest of all.;( Don't they need someone young and very, very energetic?

    I hope you can come to peace of mind in all of this. And don't mind this long and floundering comment that says so little.

    Love, Luci

  17. You made me laugh and challenged me too. Thanks!