Bentley’s Birthday

On Sunday I watched Bentley celebrate his birthday for the umpteenth time.

Each Sunday at the Village Church we ask people who are celebrating birthdays to come forward and let us help them celebrate. Last Sunday Bentley raced up and took his place. We’re pretty sure he was celebrating his ninth birthday.

It's hard to keep track since Bentley celebrates his birthday every week. He is always first in the birthday line. This Sunday he was. Last Sunday too, and the Sunday before that. He stands ramrod straight, arms firmly folded across his chest, face stoic, and almost dares us not to celebrate him. So we do. We sing “Happy Birthday” to him every week.

Pastor Eric asks the celebrants their age. When it’s his turn, Bentley bellows into the microphone, “I’m 9!” He stands patiently, waiting for the words of the song to waft over him. Only then does he finally break into a smile. The boy loves to celebrate his birthday—every week.

The Village Church does a great job celebrating birthdays and other significant events like anniversaries or first days back to school. We’re masters at singing “Happy Birthday.” We’ve made a rule: If you bring dessert, we'll sing for you. But you have to bring dessert or no one will notice. We're not picky—anything sweet will do.

There is one other requirement, of course—no organization ever makes just one rule. The second rule is you have to answer Eric honestly when he asks your age. That’s hard for many adults. Shy people and those pretending to be younger struggle. We’re OK with that, but rules are rules. Bentley doesn’t care. He’s proud to be 9, and he’s thrilled everyone knows it.

Do we ever celebrate! The band strikes up and people stomp and cheer and deliver the most raucous rendition of the birthday song you’ve ever heard. There’s dancing and woo-hooing. You can wallow in the love. Bentley soaks it in—every week.

Bentley knows how to celebrate. He knows how to be the center of attention and how to bask in the love of others. He savors God’s goodness.

I, on the other hand, most often don’t dare celebrate. I wonder what people will think. I worry about pridefulness, or that it might be humiliating. Bentley gives no thought to these concerns. He just celebrates—often.

I recently celebrated 20 years of being ordained. But I didn't really. I stuffed my longing to be celebrated. I ignored it and moved on. Who cares about a mere 20 years of ordination? It’s no big deal.

But on Sunday I watched Bentley celebrate his birthday for the umpteenth time. I noted his audacious assumption that he is worth celebrating. He is. I think maybe I should go buy a bag of Oreos, run up front, shout my name into the microphone, and tell folks I’m celebrating 20 years of ordination. Let them sing over me.

Bentley would.

About the Author

Rod Hugen is pastor of the Village Church and leader of the Tucson Cluster, a church planting effort in Tucson, Ariz.