It was the sixth morning of kindergarten and we were waiting for the bell in the school yard with the other kids and parents. Jack had gathered a pile of rocks and formed a smiley-face with a few sticks and a strip of plastic. He stepped back and smiled at his work before running to his new friends, “You guys! Come see what I made!”
The boy and girl obliged and stood over the pebble-person while Jack beamed, content to share his creation.
I’m not sure who started it, or how, or why, but within moments they started burying it. Much to Jack’s horror, his friends were drawing stones in and covering the face Jack had taken the time to create – and had the courage enough to share with them. He started to protest, but they argued that this was good fun, so I watched as he nervously joined them. But he didn’t like it.
And then it happened. The young girl pushed herself to standing, lifted one foot, and stomped on the buried pebble-person, obliterating it completely. The two kids quickly turned and ran with Jack chasing them, tears streaming down his face, “Why did you do that? I thought you were my friends!!”
Ashamed (perhaps), the kids ran to their parents who had observed the whole scene while I rushed to Jack’s side to quiet his shrieks of horror and to wipe away his tears. I comforted him and half expected the parents to send their kids over to apologize, but they didn’t come.
The bell rang. The kids grabbed their bags, got in line, and, while my heart ached for his crushed spirit, I watched my son slog into the school.
In that moment, I wondered, “What are we doing? How can we send him off into a harsh world and allow him to be hurt by hard people? Is public school the wrong decision?”
Days later, I read these words from Steve Wiens, “The Actual Pastor,” to his son Isaac:
My job is not to protect you from hard things, it’s to launch you out into this great big world, so that you can play your part in great Big Story. This means that sometimes, you’ll make mistakes. You might not make the team. You might try to make friends with people who reject you. When those things happen, I hope I’m the first person you want to talk to. I’ll cry with you. Isaac, this is so hard for me. I’d much rather do anything and everything to make sure you don’t fail or get hurt. But you need to fail, and even get hurt sometimes, because that’s how you’ll learn how to be a person who brings great things to this world. Only those of us who have suffered a little know how to really help.
I want to protect my children. But I believe I am mistaken if I think I am protecting my children by not allowing them to feel pain, by not exposing them to others, and by not guiding them through the hard circumstances of fights, injuries, misbehavior, and sadness.
As a Christian, I believe my task is to be a light in the world of pain and sorrow that is. It is to be a comfort to those who are suffering, to listen to those who are abused, to point the way to the true hope in the midst of confusion and sorrow.
As a Christian mother, I believe my task is to comfort my children as they experience the reality of a fallen world so that they may experience greater life than they could find in the safety of our own home. As they experience pain, they can also experience healing. As they experience hurt, they can also experience forgiveness. As they experience sorrow, they can also experience a greater joy. As they experience hate, they can also experience greater Love.
Paul wrote, 3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, 4 who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. If we ourselves have not experienced the comfort of God, how can we comfort others? If my children have not run to God in their pain as children, how can they run to him in the greater pains and struggles of adulthood?
That afternoon when I picked Jack up from school, we talked about what happened in the morning. I asked him what he felt when they buried his art and smashed it.
“Mad,” he said.
I nodded. Yes. I was mad, too.
Watching the guilty children walk by I asked what the rest of the day was like; did he play with them? “Yes, they’re my friends. They got married at lunchtime and kissed!” His face wrinkled up into giggles and silliness surrounded him.
His anger had passed quickly. Forgiveness and love took its place. I saw the softness of his heart and examined the hardness in my own as I considered the anger still there. As the days and weeks have gone by, I can see that these two children who had hurt him so much truly are his friends. Perhaps the conflict brought them together. Perhaps Jack loved them despite it. I don’t know. But I do know it has taken me time to forgive them, though Jack did so quickly. And in that, he has been a light to me as I have been hardened by hurts of the world.
We are showing God’s love to each other, my children and me. This comfort, this learning is not one way as we enter the world, but as God guides us we teach one another about compassion and light.
I know there will be greater hurts and heartbreak down the road, but as Steve said above, my job is not to protect my kids. I will rejoice with them as they rejoice and mourn with them as they mourn. I will seek God’s help as I try to be the light and comfort of God in their lives, releasing them to the grand stories God is writing in them. And trusting, always trusting, that HE is active, HE is love, HE is comfort, HE is good, and that HE is always with them.