Our son, Mattias, is a complicated kid. He’s sweet, creative and remarkably intelligent. But to say he is strong willed would be underselling his capacity for intransigence.
When he was in preschool he, like many kids, went through a “naked phase.” He never wanted to have his clothes on at home (which was no small issue with regard to our furniture’s upkeep), and getting him dressed in the morning was part chore and part all-out war.
“We have one of these kids every year,” said his teacher, a seasoned veteran. “What you have to do is call his bluff.”
“How do we do that?” we asked.
“If he doesn’t get dressed after three warnings,” she said, “tell him you’ll bring him to school naked. Bring some clothes in a bag for him to change into, but put him in the car in a blanket if you have to.”
At first this seemed a little extreme to us, but after months of fighting this same battle every morning, we were willing to try anything. Sure enough, the next morning, he ignored all requests to clothe himself and even scoffed at my admonition that if he wasn’t dressed in five minutes, he’d be wearing his birthday suit to school.
“Dad, that’s silly,” he grinned. No one goes to school without any clothes.”
That’s what he thinks.
It’s remarkable the amount of force the preschool body can muster when filled with shock and unbridled rage, but we managed to buckle him into his car seat with nothing more than a blanket, and the extra stash of clothes tucked away in the trunk. His shrill screams were nothing short of deafening.
“YOU ARE NOT TAKING ME TO SCHOOL NAKED! STOP THIS CAR RIGHT NOW!!!”
“Will you get dressed now?”
“Yes, yes,” he panted, “ I’ll never not get dressed again.” We let him pull on his clothes in a private corner of the school parking lot and, suffice it to say, he did not hesitate to get dressed from that day on when we brought out “the blanket.”
We could have talked to him until we were dead about the logic behind getting dressed, or risk of social embarrassment, or even threatened him with dire consequences. But nothing – and I mean nothing –worked until we finally sucked it up and just went.
Then he knew we really meant what we said.
Jesus didn’t command his disciples to stand behind a pulpit and preach to make disciples of all nations. He didn’t suggest we threaten them with the prospect of eternal exile and damnation from their church communities. He told them to get up and go. Not tomorrow, and not when it was safer to do so. Not when there was an assurance of positive outcomes, or when the budget was balanced, or once the board of directors met to approve their going as an action item in the next executive committee meeting.
Go. Right now.
Then, and only then, will people truly comprehend that we believe what we claim to believe. If Jesus sending us out doesn’t convince us to prepare a table for our enemies, to confront the most desperate needs among us, then we’re no more than so many clanging cymbals.
Go and make disciples, not with your words, not with a bludgeon of fear, but with the mantle of the Gospel upon you to love fully, radically and transformatively, one person, one relationship, one life at a time.
Christian Piatt is a Sojourners Featured Writer and an author, editor, speaker, musician, and spoken word artist. He is director of church growth and development at First Christian Church in Portland, Ore. Christian is the creator and editor of Banned Questions About The Bible and Banned Questions About Jesus . His memoir on faith, family and parenting is called PREGMANCY: A Dad, a Little Dude and a Due Date.
Image: Pair of shoes, moomsabuy / Shutterstock.com