When I walk towards the elevator at the end of a long work day, my eyes are usually glued to my phone. This is partly to take my mind off whatever unfinished business I’m leaving behind, but also to get an update on what I missed in my real life. On one particularly stressful day, I found this message from my 5-year-old’s teacher:
“[Your daughter] had a great day! She went above and beyond today and I really appreciate it!”
Now, getting this message from your kids’ teacher will turn any bad day upside down! It is particularly delightful to see this from my daughter. She struggled at the beginning of the year. She is naturally independent, determined, funny and charming; wonderful characteristics to have! However, for a brand new kindergartener, these traits translate to the inability to listen and follow directions!
How do we help her stay independent and feisty, but still respect her teachers and take advantage of the opportunities to learn at school and at home? As a parent – one who naturally follows the rules – this has been a difficult balance to figure out. But I believe that my daughter is learning how to stay true to self while staying within certain boundaries.
My daughter’s teacher at our Wednesday night faith formation hour told me this story. The lesson that night was The Sheep and the Goats, which Jesus told in Matthew 25:31-46 (MSG). Here’s a quick synopsis…
“Then those ‘sheep’ are going to say, ‘Master, what are you talking about? When did we ever see you hungry and feed you, thirsty and give you a drink? And when did we ever see you sick or in prison and come to you?’ Then the King will say, ‘I’m telling the solemn truth: Whenever you did one of these things to someone overlooked or ignored, that was me—you did it to me.’
Those who failed to do these things to another failed to do it to Jesus himself. These “goats” will be sent away! The passage concludes: “Then those ‘goats’ will be herded to their eternal doom, but the ‘sheep’ to their eternal reward.”
That is an intense story to explore with a room full of young children! I mean, really – haven’t all of us been a goat at one point or another? So the real message for the children that night was that Jesus asks us to be sheep and follow Him; caring for others means caring for Jesus!
Now, I KNOW my daughter cares for others. She is full of compassion and empathy, which I greatly admire! No matter how independent she chooses to be, she has others’ interests at heart. This independent little soul is too preoccupied to follow directions for mundane tasks; a simple direction like “go brush your teeth” does not warrant empathy, and is therefore usually ignored! A request like “Your aunt is not feeling well. Could you go draw her a picture to help cheer her up?” is met with instant action!
So, when her group at church learned that Jesus wants us to be sheep because ‘goats don’t listen and goats don’t care,” my daughter responds with big, terribly sad eyes: “I am the goat in my family. I am the goat because I don’t listen and I get in trouble.”
And my heart breaks in two! We’ve discussed it since – we talked about caring for others and being respectful, we praised her for the many acts of kindness we see (like helping her teacher) and encouraged her to continue to care for others.
We are not perfect – we are all built differently and have varying spiritual gifts. It is troubling when we let these perceived negative traits get us down, forgetting the many ways we do good! So we keep people around who love us, and we let them remind us that we are all sheep, in our own ways, all uniquely loved by God and called to do His work in the world!
(And if you grew up in the 90’s and now have the Cake song Sheep Go to Heaven stuck in your head – you are welcome…)