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Planting lifeTeaching about Life for Life

If we do not speak to the issues in our students’ lives, we are just focusing on the textbooks and not on the whole person in front of us.An eighth grader’s uncle commits suicide. A fifth grader’s big sister just found out she’s pregnant. A kindergartener’s grandpa died when they “pulled the plug.” A high school student has suicidal thoughts. A teacher has terminal cancer.

These topics are not just political, controversial issues. Our students find themselves in these situations suddenly and unexpectedly. We can choose to ignore them. I have heard teachers say, “What happens at home stays at home. Don’t bring your baggage into my classroom.” If you have said or thought that, I beg you to change your mindset. If we do not speak to the issues in our students’ lives, we are just focusing on the textbooks and not on the whole person in front of us. How many days do they sit there, trying to focus, distracted by the hard realities at home, and unable to say anything to a teacher who focuses only on school subjects? Do they feel connected to you as a whole person? Do you share your struggles, your grief, and your celebrations of life? We teach the whole student. As educators in Lutheran schools, we have a wonderful, life-affirming foundation to give them, so they can face those tough times knowing what the Bible says and that God loves them, no matter what.

giving lifeFirst, let’s remove the idea that any of this is political. Crisis topics like unplanned pregnancies and suicide are hot-button issues that can become controversial and political. As Christian schoolteachers, we know these topics come up in our students’ lives. If we refuse to talk about them and leave them to the lawmakers, we are avoiding issues that touch people’s hearts. We know that not all our school families go to church or attend Bible study. The parents and grandparents may have a shaky worldview that doesn’t stand firmly on biblical principles. And, here we are, facing the very toughest times of life with the best resource we could possibly have! The Bible is a tool we use every day, in all kinds of situations. Why not use it to speak to the hard, life-changing, teachable moments of our students’, and our own, lives?

The Word of God speaks to our hearts and provides us with comfort, encouragement, guidelines, and even the urgency to act. We can transfer all of that to our students, so that when they face those hard times, they also have the tools to comfort, encourage, and act.

Think about things you already do and ways that would be natural for you to meet the topics of life relevant to your classroom. When their best friend talks about suicide, they can have an idea what God wants them to say. When their girlfriend gets an abortion, they can know where to turn. When they find out they have a limited time here on Earth, they can be comforted, knowing in whom and in what to find comfort and strength to transition to heaven. That may sound like a big burden for a humble Christian teacher, but I challenge you to think about things you already do and ways that would be natural for you to meet the topics of life relevant to your classroom.

We are talking about being biblical. That may mean that we need to know a bit more about what the Bible teaches in different life areas. For example, the Fifth Commandment says that we are not to murder. As I look through Luther’s Small Catechism’s treatment of this commandment (I have the 2017 edition with explanation in front of me), I discover topics that go well beyond murder: abortion, euthanasia, and suicide, just to name a few. I can understand how I could lead a classroom through the discussion of all things that hurt or harm someone in his or her body. We could make this topic incredibly broad. Then, because we always want to express the Gospel clearly, we could also talk about what it means to help and support someone. The catechism promotes this discussion as well, talking about how we approach others in kindness and compassion (page 87). It even gives specific advice on how to talk to someone who has had an abortion (page 91). Add to the mix, some discussion-worthy topics like co-dependency, boundaries, and helping those who abuse themselves, and you could spend the whole quarter on this one commandment.

sharing lifePlease don’t save these topics for religion class. Many of them can easily be integrated into literature studies (The Giver, for example), science class (human development before birth, reproduction system, and stem cell research, just to name a few), and social studies (how have we treated and valued other human beings over the years?). I have found that when I look for places to make biblical connections, they keep popping up. So, be on the lookout for them!

Some of us will never need to address some of the heavier, difficult issues, but we all will be showing God’s view of life in our classrooms every day as we continue to show our students that we love and forgive them just as God does. When we celebrate their birthdays as a day we recognize their physical life and their baptisms as a recognition of their spiritual rebirth, we are affirming life issues. When we read picture books like Horton Hears a Who and recite the famous line, “A person’s a person, no matter how small!” we can remind them of a time when they were very small, before they were even born. And, yes, they were each a person, no matter how small.

When your class makes cards for the elderly, prays for the sick, or collects diapers for a local pregnancy care center, you are doing life mission projects. As we weave themes of grace and forgiveness into our lessons, we can address life issues. Many times, we do it without thinking, because the Holy Spirit has embedded a biblical view of life in us already. Whenever you talk about creation, God’s love for all people, or their families, you are talking about life issues. When your class makes cards for the elderly, prays for the sick, or collects diapers for a local pregnancy care center, you are doing life mission projects.

Other times, the lesson opportunity, the teachable moment, presents itself. When a student asks a pointed question about any life issue, we should be ready. If we have prepared ourselves, we don’t need to say, “Let’s talk about that later.” (Although that is something we can say as we try to figure out how to best handle it.)

helping a brotherAnd then there are the intentional lessons we plan, to be sure our students have a firm foundation in God’s life lessons. Teaching For Life is a good source for such lesson plans. Lutherans For Life makes this valuable resource available free of charge online. (Note: This takes time to download. It’s 270 pages long.)

Teaching For Life covers preschool through eighth grade, with 270 pages of material to supplement your curriculum. It does not replace your curriculum, but many teachers have used it either as a direct source of instruction or as an inspiration to come up with their own ways to address important life issues.

Each unit has a key concept (there are nine key concepts throughout the lessons), a Gospel focus, and a Bible story. They include critical questions that contrast the world’s answer compared to the Word’s answer. So, you have the different worldviews in front of you, to help you guide conversations and lessons. The units continue, tailored to each grade level, with ways to incorporate life lessons through all different subject matter. A parent letter, field trip suggestions, and resources (bibliography and online resources) finish up each unit.

I encourage you to look through this curriculum resource, including scanning the lessons of grades you don’t teach. You will probably see things you have done for years (thank the Holy Spirit, your training, and your creativity for that!) along with some ideas that lead you to be even more creative. You will also find that there’s not nearly enough to cover a whole year of life issues, so you’ll want to dig deeper, study, and keep watching for those teachable, life-centered moments. Also, remember to use the Bible, LutheransForLife.org, and Luther’s Small Catechism. They have a wealth of information from a strong biblical worldview. Use these resources to launch your life-centered lessons as you strive to educate each child with the help of the Holy Spirit.

Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. John 17:17 ESV

Stephenie Hovland, a former Lutheran schoolteacher, is the vice president for Lutherans For Life. She has written articles for LifeDate and spoken at a national Lutherans For Life conference. Stephenie runs the Wisconsin Lutherans For Life Essay Contest and has been on the national board of directors for over nine years. Please contact her at email@stepheniehovland.com.

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