The annual all-school Christmas pageant was a month away and my sixth-grade class at St. Peter’s Elementary School in Geneva, Illinois were pondering their options. In a brainstorming session, someone suggests “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” and the entire class unanimously applauds the idea. After all, this was 1968 and the Peanuts gang was riding a crest of popularity second to none. Sure, TV shows like Laugh-In, Star Trek and Mod Squad were regular favorites. But when a Charlie Brown special aired, you just didn’t miss it.
Most of the boys wanted to be PigPen and the girls were divided between Lucy, Sally, Violet or Peppermint Patty. As for me, I set my sights on the role of Linus and did something I had never done before: I memorized a portion of the Bible. Seven verses! Luke 2:8-14. It never dawned on me I was committing Scripture to memory. I thought I was simply memorizing a long speech from a script.
This 11-year-old totally nailed my audition. I started with the words, “Lights please,” continued with, “And there were in the same district, shepherds abiding in the field keeping watch over their flock by night … ” and finished with the memorable line, “And that’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.” (See below for a video of Linus’s speech.) It probably also helped that I was one of the shorter boys in the class and already had a Linus-style haircut.
The show was the hit of the pageant. As my memory serves, we earned a thunderous standing ovation. Was it a turning point in my life? Perhaps. I was just playing a role, but as Linus I was actually sharing the greatest news in the history of the world. Something like that can have an impact on a pre-teen.
Since then, my appreciation for the Bible and committing portion of it to memory has greatly expanded. And I have been on stage a few more times since sixth grade. As a producer for Christian radio and author of several Christian books, I can even trace my chosen career back to that performance.
Dad, never underestimate how a door can open in elementary or middle school that changes your child’s life forever.
What about you, Dad?
What childhood events pointed you toward your career, hobby, or other aspect of your adult life. What if you knew then what you know now? Maybe share the entire story with your own kids.
Jay Payleitner is the bestselling author of 52 Things Kids Need from a Dad, What If God Wrote Your Bucket List? and Day-by-Day Devotions for Dads. Jay and his high school sweetheart, Rita, live in St. Charles, Illinois where they raised five awesome kids, loved on ten foster babies, and are cherishing grandparenthood. Track him down at jaypayleitner.com.