What happens when you combine three spirited fourth grade boys plus a jealous second grade brother for a birthday sleepover? It sounds like the beginning of a joke, but I assure you it is all too real. That’s exactly what happened at my house this past weekend.
All went fairly well Friday night. There were relatively few arguments, and all four boys got along very well. Saturday morning, however, was a different story. Chalk it up to lack of sleep if you will, but the morning had a rough start. The boys were playing a game one of them had made up, and it involved throwing balls. Not a great formula for peaceful play. It went downhill quickly and ended in a full-blown fight with all four boys throwing balls at each other. Accusations flew right along with those balls. They all came rushing in to tattle on each other, everyone talking at once to make sure I heard their side of the story. One boy texted his mom that the other kids were being mean to him. Sigh. Whose idea was this sleepover, anyhow?
For the record, all four of them got in trouble. I don’t care who started it- they all played a part and were all to blame. I told them the sleepover was over unless they could figure out how to resolve this amongst themselves. Then I left the room to call the other mom and do damage control. Once I’d gotten out of their sight, I lingered long enough to hear them apologize to and forgive each other. I hadn’t prompted that at all. Yes, I’d told them to resolve the thing, but I didn’t force them to say they were sorry or to actually say the words, “I forgive you.” They did that on their own. Then they shrugged it off and were soon laughing together again. It was a beautiful testament to the power of reconciliation, even among grade school boys.
Now imagine what would have happened had I said, “That’s it! Sleepover’s finished! In the car NOW! You’re all going home!” (Trust me, I was sorely tempted to do just this…) Everyone would have gone home mad, the fight would likely have spilled over into school the following week, and nothing would have been resolved. I’d have robbed them of the important lesson of forgiveness.
After my phone call to the other mom, I came back into the room and said, “What happened before was the Law. You were all wrong and you all got in trouble. What just happened was the Gospel. You apologized to each other, and you forgave each other. I forgive you, too, but more importantly, Jesus forgives you. Now we forget about it. We don’t need to bring it up again. It’s over.” And as I walked away again, I could hear them joking, “Yeah, so what happened there anyhow? I forget.” “I don’t know, weren’t we playing kickball and you fell on your butt?” Laughter all around. (These are fourth grade boys, after all. That’s exactly their kind of humor.)
Those boys taught me two lessons that morning. First of all, as a parent or teacher or someone who deals with kids, don’t be too quick to rush in and “save the day” or mete out consequences before things have had a chance to resolve. When kids are young, you literally have to stand next to them and prompt them to tell their sibling, “I’m sorry.” They won’t do this on their own when they’re two or three. But as they get older, they need to be able to do this without you hovering over them. Trust me, they will be better for it. And sometimes it’s so much easier to swoop in and say, “You go to your room, you go to yours. If you’re going to fight, then you can’t be together.” Sometimes that is necessary, but at some point, It must be resolved or it will fester. The earlier kids are taught to reconcile with each other when the stakes are small (by adult standards), the easier it will be for them to resolve things as adults when the stakes are much higher.
The second lesson I learned from them is to really forgive. Those boys were champs when they started joking about the whole thing so soon after it happened. What would adult relationships be if we were so quick to shrug off an offense? The sooner we look to resolve an issue the easier it will be. A friend posts something on Facebook that you take as demeaning. Rather than retaliate and post something bad against her, take the higher road and call (don’t text) or even talk face to face. Then forget about it. Shrug it off and make a joke about it. We’re all fallen creatures. We will all make mistakes. We all sin. Give grace a chance in your human relations.
Looking back over the weekend, I’m glad the boys had that fight. We all learned a valuable lesson from it. As an adult, I was amazed to see how easy it actually was for them to make up. Boys, you’re more mature than you realize. Thank you for humbling an adult with a real-life lesson on reconciliation.