This past Wednesday, my 9-year-old and I quickly walked up the stairs at church. Late as usual, we were rushing between faith formation hour and worship. I could hear the music begin to play, when my son stopped me. He looked at me with those dark brown eyes, and I knew he was fighting back tears. He began to tell me about what had happened with another child in his class.
Here is how it went down, as I scribed for my son later that night…
“We were reading a bible verse that talked about forgiving. And then we drew things about our families. I was making stick figures of our family with dot markers. When I was all done and we were starting to clean-up, I looked away and another person in my class wrote a quote bubble with the word ‘Butt’ on my dad’s stick figure. I tried to not react too badly. The teacher asked him to say I’m sorry to me. He said I’m sorry, and I forgave him and then tried to make the bubble into a smiley face.”
He told me this story hours later, sitting together in front of my computer at the kitchen table. I think he was careful with his words, knowing others will read this. He was calm by then, able to reflect on what happened. So his statement “I tried to not react too badly” was definitely an understatement!
In the moment, he was upset. As he tearfully told the story to my husband and I before church, I knew he had forgiven but was having trouble forgetting. He was upset that his artwork had been defaced. More than that, he was sad that another child had disrespected him.
Church started. We stood to sing, shared a greeting. The Gospel was read…
“Then Peter came and said to him, ‘Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?’ Jesus said to him ‘Not seven times, but seventy-seven times.’” Matthew 18:21-22
On Wednesday nights, youth will often give the sermon. It is remarkable how much insight these young people have, and how open they are to sharing their stories! We underestimate their role in faith formation! That particular night a freshman in high school gave the sermon. He was tasked with a 5-6 minute message on this Gospel of forgiveness. He also just so happened to be the teacher of the 3rd and 4th graders; the teacher who had helped my son and his classmate work through the anger and subsequent act of forgiveness. Without a lot of specifics, he shared the story of the “butt” drawing. He talked about how great it was to witness one child ask for forgiveness and the other to give it.
Later that night, at home, my son and I sat together and stayed up too late discussing what happened. We talked about forgiveness and human relationships, why we hold onto anger and hurt, and how we can let those feelings go. Dwelling will not bring us closer to the peace, love and joy promised through faith in God! We talked about how cool it was for his unfortunate story to be used to share God’s message of love and forgiveness. We don’t know or care why this other boy defaced his stick figure, but we know God used it for a bigger purpose.
The kids read this story from Genesis before the “butt” debacle. When Joseph’s brothers came begging for forgiveness after their father’s death, Joseph proclaimed these words:
“Even though you intended to do harm to me, God intended it for good, in order to preserve a numerous people, as he is doing today.” Genesis 50:20
My son said these words “really touched him.” As simple as it seems, it was a good message for us all. Obviously, as adults we cope with pain and hurt in a bigger way. But the lesson holds true. God can create good from evil! God does not desire evil, but God’s goodness and mercy is so great that evil can be forgiven and used to create goodness. In a world full of evil, this is where our hope rests. We forgive and we are free to live in peace.