It Matters Where You Eat Cheerios
By JIM NICHOLS
Two of them were sisters; the third was clearly a friend. All were five or six years old and were in front of me during a recent worship service. They were cute the way little girls can be cute; their long hair was tied up with colorful bows or ribbons and they each had on a pretty dress. In thirty minutes, they would be able to leave to attend “children’s church” in another room, but until then they were trapped with the rest of us in big people’s worship.
Making the most of the time, they smiled and talked (generally) softly, mostly on the floor backward on their knees with imaginations and small stuffed characters. Meanwhile, the adult songs, prayers, and other activities occurred without, apparently, the girls noticing. However, they were there, and I believe they were hearing, perhaps unconsciously, from God.
Reverend Large was the preacher I can remember from my boyhood. I remember absolutely nothing from his preaching, except for when he talked about astronomy one time, something I had just been reading about in school. I remember the people singing the Doxology every Sunday and that I liked the choir robes, but there were not other memorable specifics. As I got older, occasionally the church would have a high school day during which a couple of high school students spoke and that was mildly interesting to me. Otherwise, I was just there, like the girls ahead of me yesterday were there. And something was happening.
Sunday school class was overall boring at the time. Being with church friends was good, but the class material seemed ancient and difficult to understand. The well-meaning teacher droned on and did not seem to remember when class was supposed to end. I confess that I occasionally would impolitely take off my watch and wind it, hoping that she would note the current time. Nevertheless, she was a representative of God during that hour, and I was present.
In the pre-parenting era of life, my wife and I imprinted on a family at the church. They had five young children and, when they arrived for a service, the mother dutifully handed each a Tupperware container of dry Cheerios. Cheerios can be eaten quite slowly and quietly. The adult songs, readings, prayers, and sermons came and went, and the children ate their Cheerios. They could have eaten their cereal at home, but now they were surrounded by God-things and God-people, and I do not believe that was a neutral situation. It matters where you eat Cheerios.
One of the helpful parts of being a chaplain is that you get to ask questions that are pointed. A patient the other day was explaining her difficult life. With significant physical and emotional problems, she had tears in her eyes and pain in her heart. Life seemed hopeless and she explained that she was in a desperate state.
Question: Do you have a church home? Do you have a faith community?
After a pause, her response was, “I used to go to church all the time. I grew up in church.” This was all spoken haltingly. “Now life has gotten so complicated that I don’t even know any people who think church is important.” Again, there was a long pause before she continued. “Maybe I could come closer to God again if I were with others trying to do so also. Once I was surrounded by other people trying to find God too. Do you think that makes sense?”
My response: “I think that makes perfect sense.”
Some of what we know and believe now was not specifically taught to us and learned. Some of it, perhaps many of the most important items, simply came into focus gradually. We saw something we were not even sure we had been looking for. We heard a new voice that surprised and drew us. Perhaps it was so sharp that tears came to our eyes unexpectedly. How does that happen? It may have to do with where we eat Cheerios.
Jim Nichols is a retired Abilene Christian University biology professor and current hospice chaplain