t was about 10:00 a.m. on a hot and sunny Saturday morning. I was perched on a tiny, beige chair behind a row of 3- and 4-year-olds. The children, for the most part, were singing and/or banging on instruments the teacher had handed out. My daughter, who embraces volume as many people do sweets, was clapping cymbals with gusto to “Jesus Loves Me.”
(Before I go any further, let me explain a few things: (1) This was my daughter’s first attendance to the Sabbath school class after graduating from the toddler class; (2) I was observing the class to learn how to teach it. So, I was part observer and 100 percent parent.)
After several like-accompanied songs, the teacher dived into a lesson on Joseph, and my daughter dived onto her belly to get a bird’s-eye view of the glass-bottled grain that was the object lesson. It took one second for the rest of the class to follow. I grinned to myself as I thought, There she goes again, leading the pack.
At the conclusion of Sabbath school the children were given activity sheets, crayons, and tape. I was shocked by what I saw next. Instead of doing her own thing, which is typical, she paused and looked at what the older girls were doing with their sheets. Then she proceeded to copy their actions—exactly.
No! part of me shouted instantly. Don’t crumble to peer pressure! If you do now, tomorrow it might be drugs or sex! And for a split second I worried about the possibility that my daughter, a decade or so older, might follow the pack right into hell.
Rational thought quickly overtook my brief, unreasonable paranoia. And as I watched my girl color and fold, I contemplated where these thoughts may have come from in the first place.
Maybe I was so sensitive because I’ve been concerned lately about the creeping compromise I’m seeing in Adventism. As a child, I remember taking mental pictures of people in cars sharing the expressway with my family as we traveled to camp meeting. I’d pick out the people who looked “Adventist”—not just by their attire but by their “wholesome,” shining countenances—and later see if I could find them at camp. You’d be surprised (or maybe you wouldn’t) at how many actually were Adventists. Today, it seems as if we’ve utterly assimilated into the culture around us. Many Adventists I know eat, drink, wear, read, and listen to the same things everyone else does. We’ve copied the world’s actions—exactly.
As one who’d rather blend in, I’m talking to myself when I say that we should stand out, and stand apart. I have to remind myself that being true to our ideals even if I’m excluded and rejected is part of the deal once I joined the church. As a follower of Christ, I shouldn’t be spending bundles on designer items, or watching the filth filling television screens. Or imbibing things I know really aren’t good for me.
Before I get the calls and letters denouncing me a legalistic Pharisee, let me explain something: I firmly believe: (1) righteousness comes by faith (Rom. 1:17; 3:21-24; Phil. 3:9); (2) salvation is a gift for all to accept (John 3:16); and (3) God looks upon the heart (Ps. 44:21; Ellen White, The Great Controversy, p. 175). What is inside your heart and mind, what your personal relationship with Jesus is—that is what’s vitally important. And far be it from me to judge anyone, let alone solely on their actions and appearance.
But I wonder: if we are striving to be like Jesus—and as we draw closer to Him—wouldn’t we become more like Him? Wouldn’t His wholesome goodness shine just a bit from us (1 Peter 2:9)? Wouldn’t we stand apart from the crowd as we follow Him?
I understand that there’s a time and place for everything—including mimicry. My daughter’s picking of a green crayon to color Joseph’s hair because her little friend did is nothing to be worried about. She is learning just about everything right now by copying something she’s seen or heard. This is normal in childhood (in life and in faith) and to be encouraged. But as she grows—as we all grow—we must remember this: Whom we copy is what makes all the difference. Inside and out.
Kimberly Luste Maran is assistant editor of the Adventist Review.