As teachers of the faith we work so hard to share our stories and our wisdom. Often we have the added burden of completing a required curriculum. But to teach effectively we have to build connections and bridges. We have to know where these kids live to touch their hearts and lift their spirits higher.
This article shows you how you can use analogies to connect your teens’ interests to faith principles and practices. It’s an approach you can work into any curriculum.
How Jesus used Analogies to Teach
Jesus taught from analogy. He knew the people whose lives corresponded to his brief human life. Jesus used analogies about harvesting and threshing wheat, fishing, planting (mustard) seeds, dealing with debilitating diseases, wresting with mental illness, eating meals, talking to friends, journeying by boat, hiking in the wilderness, dealing with younger children, being a follower, being a leader. The list is endless.
Jesus, the Teacher, met his pupils where they lived. He used analogies from their common life to connect to deeper meanings. Remember the one about thieves in the night?
What matters most to your students? Where do they spend their time? What is their passion? Draw on their interests and adapt analogies to the faith.
Start by asking them questions. Get to know them. Then, you’ll find opportunistic moments. This article includes suggestions for diverse student interests.
Ask the kids: What’s your favorite _________________, and why?
You can ask about books, magazines, websites, sports, subjects in school, movies, songs, etc. What they choose and the reasons they give matter. If you worry that teens won’t take risks aloud, do this with a handout, and promise you won’t reveal the information.
Once you discern what matters most to your students, you’ll find opportunities to connect.
Analogies are comparisons between unlike things that show similar aspects. Jesus did this through parables, stories with morals. Sometimes I picture Jesus using transitions and lead-ins like I do when I teacher: “Okay, so imagine….” “Picture it this way….” “What if…..”
For example, Jesus used the analogy of the old wineskin to show the New Covenant: Nor do people put new wine into old wineskins; otherwise the wineskins burst, and the wine pours out and the wineskins are ruined; but they put new wine into fresh wineskins, and both are preserved. (Matthew 9:17) Wineskins are not common to us today, but they were to the people of 1st century Palestine.
A word picture glimpses a broader meaning with fewer words. If the word picture is familiar, the meaning sticks with the help of a recognizable image.
After gathering information about your students’ interests, you’ll find they fall into some categories. Here are some tips for analogies you can use for spiritual teachings.
The Athlete: What is the ultimate good of playing a sport well? (win games) How do you reach that goal? (hard work, perfecting techniques, teamwork, good sportsmanship) Sometimes we miss the ball. We have to get low (be humble) and keep at it (fortitude).
Our lives are our daily practice for the big game. Will we get to heaven and live in eternity in the arms of our loving God, surrounded by the communion of saints and choir of angels? What techniques do we need to perfect? ( practicing the virtues) What strategies will help us win? (prayer, frequenting the Sacraments, learning sacrificial love)
The Dancer: What is the ultimate goal of dancing well? (pleasing the audience, helping your team or troupe) How do you achieve success as a dancer? (hard work, learning fundamental techniques, getting stronger gradually, developing a well choreographed plan and executing the plan without error)
Our lives are a great dance, accompanied by more dancers than we can see, including the communion of saints and angels. When we stay on beat we are attuned to God’s will. Sometimes we stumble, we fall. We have to get up and keep trying.
The Musician: What is the ultimate goal of writing a good song or playing a piece well? (please the audience, holding your harmonies, keeping the beat) How do you get there? (practice, repetitive exercises, listening to others, blending the sound well, staying on beat)
God orders the universe in interweaving harmonies, cord strings that vibrate his love. His truth touches our hearts. David sung the Psalms on a Lyre. St. Thomas Aquinas said he who sings prays twice. You can read to them from the Chronicles of Narnia, the scene where the children hear the music and see the world created. Many have imaged God’s creation as a song.
You get the message
Connect, brainstorm analogies based on student interests, and use these as teaching tools.
Qualification: We live in an era following decades of the Church retreating from right practice to make Church relevant. I’m not suggesting that!
I’m suggesting you keep the teaching full and faithful. Just find extra ways to make points hit home for kids, by touching them where they live. The Teacher taught us to do this. May He guide us with wisdom and creativity to teach the children well.