It wasn’t much different from any other Sunday morning for Eric. Although he wouldn’t quite consider himself a “morning person,” Eric enjoyed getting to the church early. Typically he’d pull in while it was still dark, several hours before the 9:00 a.m. service. Usually, Eric was the first one there, and he liked it that way.
Others might call it routine or a chore, but Eric considered it therapeutic to move throughout the building in the stillness of the morning turning on lights and adjusting thermostats. Those were the moments that he used to prepare for the day before him. Sometimes Eric would spend this time praying for the programs, the songs, and every little activity that was planned. Most importantly, he used the time to pray for all the laughing and smiling kids who would barge through the doors later that morning.
Specific names and faces came to mind. Under his breath he whispered, “Lord, I pray for Simon today. He’s had such a hard year since his parents divorced, and he’s really struggling to make friends with the other second and third grade boys. God, I pray that today would be the day that he connects with his peers.”
A big smile flashed across Eric’s face as he thought about seven-year-old Katie Martin. “Jesus, thank You so much for little Katie’s great faith! Thank You for helping her see You and have the courage to ask You into her life last week. Lord, I pray that she not lose the joy of following You.”
Eric continued walking the halls completing his mindless tasks amid the blaring silence. His mind wandered from thought to thought, wondering how each preschool lesson would go, if the first and second grade girls were going to like the activity in their small group, and whether Billy was going to pick a fight with Gregory again this week.
His mind also drifted to thoughts far more carnal. He relived the plot twists and cliffhanger endings of the movies he stayed up too late watching. Subconsciously, Eric’s mind returned to his personal, never-ending debate of his favorite superhero: Batman or Superman? The heater kicked on loudly and jolted his mind back to the present. His eyes darted around, and he breathed a sign of relief finding safety in the empty hallways. Smiling, he wondered what his kids would think if they really knew what went on in the mind of a children’s pastor.
If someone asked Eric which day of the week was his favorite, he’d readily answer Sunday. It was the day he looked forward to most. His staff and volunteers could all readily recite his favorite phrase, “Sunday is a day of promise and potential, a day boys and girls come to experience Jesus.” Pretty much everything Eric did all week pointed to Sunday morning. It was the pinnacle of his week.
However, in the safety of those empty corridors, Eric’s mind sorted through repressed compartments and pulled out feelings of insecurity and dread. Yes, Sunday was the pinnacle of his week, and it was the day that he got to do the jobs he loved most and was best at. But Sunday was also the day the worst parts of his job also surfaced. No matter how much he wanted those dreaded pests to simply disappear, they were his reality. More than once in the privacy of his home, Eric found himself confessing to his wife, Rebecca, “If I didn’t have to deal with the hassle of undependable volunteers or clueless parents, this job would be absolutely perfect.”
When Eric was just a volunteer, all he knew was showing up and leading his small group of third-through-fifth-grade boys. He’d prepare for his lesson for days, and the forty minutes he had with them was the highlight of his week. When Eric came on staff, he naively thought that that forty minutes of pure joy would translate to forty hours of the same. He didn’t expect the constantly complaining parents asking him why the church didn’t do this or why the church did do that. Eric got a fair share of compliments and praises, but he couldn’t figure out why those select few parents could sap his joy so quickly. A run-in with two or three of those parents quickly sent him to a dark place.
Even worse were the volunteers. Most of them showed up on New-Hope time (i.e., five minutes before church began—well after most of the kids were already there). It didn’t matter how many times he begged and pleaded with them to arrive twenty minutes early, they always showed up when they felt like it, if they showed up at all. On Saturdays, Eric cringed every time his phone rang. On average, three to four volunteers would call to let him know that they would not be there the next day. Some had legitimate excuses; some didn’t. Some volunteers didn’t even call. Whether they actually forgot they were on the schedule or just ignored their duties because of a better opportunity, Eric never knew. Usually he didn’t ask either. Somehow it felt better to assume an emergency or sickness rather than face the reality that something they’d rather do came up.
Truth be told, Eric was a bit of a pushover. Sure, his pastor would be hard pressed to find a guy as kind and caring as Eric Newman. And he would be unlikely to find anyone with something bad to say about Eric, well, beside those few parents with their weekly list of complaints. But Eric didn’t rock the boat. When a herd of late volunteers ran into the classrooms at the last minute, Eric would let out a sigh of relief and say, “I can’t tell you how glad I am to see you!” Only later would he send his volunteers a blanket e-mail not singling anyone out but reminding all of them to be early each week.
In the darkness and stillness of that early Sunday morning, inevitably Eric’s thoughts exposed what he dreaded most: Which volunteers are not going to show up today? We’re a little low on help this morning, but if everyone shows up, we can just about cover every room. Wait, who am I kidding? Everyone never shows up on the same week, and I’m going to spend the first fifteen minutes of both services shuffling volunteers around, and at least one of our rooms is going to have a whacked-out ratio of children to teachers. I’ll walk on the stage of Kids Church five minutes late and drenched in sweat, just like every Sunday.
As Eric finished up his duties around the church, he reflected on the stillness of that Sunday morning. He loved that early Sunday-morning solitude and the extra time to think, pray, and contemplate. He considered it his time to just be. However, more often than not, it ended up being the calm before the storm—that raging storm that came every seventh day at 9:00 a.m. and 11:00 a.m.
Sunday truly was the best day of his week, but buried in the background was a constant sense of dread. It was an ever-present dread that made Sundays so much less than what they were supposed to be for Eric Newman.
More to come...