There is little that pains parents more than to see our children suffer. Sometimes suffering shows up in very tangible ways such as struggling with a serious childhood illness or losing a parent to death or divorce. Sometimes suffering appears in ways that seem small to us but feel enormous to our children. Such was the case with my son, Chase, one Valentine's Day.
One night after supper, Chase sat down in the living room to begin the task of signing and sealing the Valentine's Day cards he had picked out for his second-grade classmates. Seeing him surrounded by mountains of cards, envelopes, and a list of names that filled an entire page, I decided to enter into the spirit of the holiday and give him a hand. Chase gladly accepted my help.
"Here, you can seal the cards and mark the names off the list," he said shoving 15 or more cards and envelopes into my lap.
I set my coffee down on a coaster and began stuffing cards into their proper envelopes. About halfway through the stack I noticed a bold red and pink Valentine inscribed with the words, "I am thankful for you." What caught my eye was not what the card said, but the thick black lines that had been scrawled over the word "thankful."
I nudged Chase and said, "Honey, I don't think it would be very kind to give this card to one of your friends."
I was not prepared for the angry outburst that followed. Chase sat up straight and yelled, "Every day that girl calls me names and I have asked her to stop but she just laughs and curses at me!"
My heart felt a lurch of pain as I pictured Chase standing undefended in the schoolyard with this unknown girl teasing him. Maybe I should tell my son to go to the teacher and tell on this girl. Maybe I should march down to the school and have a word with his teacher myself.
As these thoughts were jabbing my mind, I sat and took in the tears that were rolling down Chase's face. I pushed my anger aside for a moment and put my arm around his shoulders. I told him how sorry I was and that I could understand why he felt so hurt.
Chase jerked himself loose from my arm and with a fresh flow of tears choked out, "She embarrasses me! Do you want me to just stand there and let her call me names?"
I paused as I silently let him unleash his feelings. My own mind was wrestling again as my thoughts of putting this girl in her place resurfaced. Slowly I forced my thoughts in another direction. Here was my young son facing a moment of suffering that might seem small to some, but was clearly a big deal to him. What did I want Chase to learn about suffering in this moment? Did I want him to seek revenge or did I want to teach him about walking through pain while offering forgiveness and grace?
Again I put my arm around Chase, wiped his tears with a Kleenex, and said, "Yes, Chase, I do want you to let her call you names. I don't want you to do anything that would hurt her."
I continued to hold him as he calmed down and thought about his choice. After a few moments, he slowly picked up a new card and addressed it neatly to this girl who so easily hurt his heart. His choice was to offer her forgiveness and grace in the form of a Valentine's card. For Chase this was a time of decision, a time to move through his pain and reach out to this girl in love. My heart ached as I watched his deliberate actions, but at the same time I was thankful he had chosen this moment to act like Jesus.
I don't know what ran through his mind the next day as he watched her open her card. I don't know if he fully understood the impact of his actions. What I do know is that my son had the courage to carry his cross of pain for that day and was willing to suffer as he offered kindness instead of revenge to this little girl.
Later we talked about Jesus and how Chase's actions reflected the kind of love Jesus shows. We talked about the fact that following Jesus often means feeling pain as we choose not to take revenge, but to offer good things to those who hurt us.
It was one moment in Chase's life, but not a small one. Chase's heart grew bigger as he chose to accept the pain necessary to express love for this girl who calls him names. I have since seen the fruit of this lesson as Chase tries to face other areas of pain with kindness and grace. When I am tempted to push suffering out of my own life, I try to remember the way God used pain to change the heart of my little boy. I pray that I will allow him to do the same in me.
Sonya Reeder is a Licensed Professional Counselor in private practice. She also is a freelance writer and speaks regularly at seminars and women's retreats. She lives in Texas with her husband, David, and their three children.
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