I had both kids in the car and I was dropping off my daughter at school. As we inched our way forward in the “kiss and go” line, we said our usual school drop-off prayer in which we ask that all the students, teachers, aides, secretaries, the vice principal, the assistant principal, bus drivers, cafeteria workers, custodians, and all who enter the school will be blessed with a safe and happy day.
My son, who was on his way to his second day of pre-school, said, “What about me? Let’s pray for everyone at my school.” And so we did. “God bless all the students and teachers at the pre-school with a wonderful, safe, happy day of learning. Amen.”
“Except for the bad kid. Don’t ‘God bless’ him,” my son added with his hands still folded and his head still bowed.
Before I could even open my mouth to address this, his sister intervened. “No, we should pray for the bad kid especially, Tom. Maybe if he has a good day, he won’t be so bad.”
“Okay, God bless the bad kid.”
“God bless with boy with the black hair,” I correctly him. I’m sure that either way, God knew who we were talking about.
Oh, yes, “the bad kid”—AKA “the boy with the black hair.” I have been hearing about him since I picked my son up from his first day of pre-school. I asked, “How did it go?” and he responded by relying the misadventures of one of the other students. Apparently, this child spit on the floor and was put in time-out where he spit on the floor again. He kicked a teacher’s assistant and was sent to time-out. He called my son a ‘baby’ and ended up in time-out—again.
The first time my son listed all the charges brought against the bad kid, I listened because I didn’t want him to think I wasn’t interested in hearing all about his first day of school, and apparently, this other child’s behavior was the dominate event of the day. When he was finished, I told him that I wanted to hear about what he did at school, not some other child. He talked about puzzles and worksheets and games and stories, but he kept coming around to the bad kid because it was at story-time that the spitting incident happened and while doing a puzzle, the names were called. At pick-up, I did hear the teacher tell a parent that she needed to speak with him privately. I’m presuming this was the bad kid’s father or grandfather.
“Let’s not call him ‘the bad kid,’” I said. “Maybe he was just having a bad day and bad feelings that cause him to behave badly. It doesn’t mean he is a bad kid. What’s his name?”
“I don’t know. He’s got black hair.” And thus, the bad kid became known as the boy with the black hair.
Honestly, I don’t know if the boy with the black hair was just having a bad day or if he has been spitting on the carpet, kicking aides, and calling the other students names since September. I do know that I felt especially proud of my daughter when she reminded her brother not to exclude anyone—even a person who had hurt him. Pray for your enemies. For me, it was a moment in which the Heavens opened, a beam of light shown upon me, and a voice said, “Well, you must be doing something right.” No, it wasn’t “Well-done, good and faithful servant,” or “This is My Son with whom I am pleased,” but since I’m not yet dead and I’m certainly not Jesus, I will settle for “Well, you must be doing something right.”
For all the bully-awareness they do in school, I’m pretty sure the guidance counselor isn’t the one who taught my daughter to pray for her enemies. My husband and I taught her that. It’s an actual example of us sharing our faith and our beliefs with our children and it sticking. Woo-hoo! Score one for Team Parent!
Of course, I have a hard time with the word “enemy.” I mean, really, the boy with the black hair is hardly Kim Jong-un. He’s a child. He may have a behavior problem, but labeling him an enemy is pretty harsh.
On a personal level, I doubt many of us have true enemies. It would be a little paranoid of me to believe that anyone is out to get me. I’m not an underworld drug lord. No one has a reason to want to snuff me out. I’m sure I could be a victim of a random crime just as anyone could be—but random is the key word there, isn’t it? And then, there are the political and religious radicals around the world who may see me as an enemy just because I am an American, but I choose not to hate them back. Yeah, I’m praying for them instead.
No, in our comfortable, western world of convenience and a fairly high standard of living, most of us encounter unpleasant circumstances and attitudes. Those are our enemies. Sure, people sometimes embody those attitudes and contribute to those circumstances. On a regular basis, I encounter people whose comments or actions make me want to beat them with my shoe—or at the very least, my words. I’ll even confess that lately, I’ve been walking around with a can of whoop-ass that I’m ready to open. I have a chip on my shoulder and a hair trigger and slew of other clichés meant to tell you to stay out of my way. In that respect, I am my own enemy.
And it makes me wonder—have to taught my children to pray for themselves? Have I taught them that in that moment when you think, “I just might lose it!” to say, “God bless me and comfort me so that I won’t say or do something I will regret?” I don’t know. Oops.
I’m reminded of my favorite prayer, the Prayer of Saint Francis of Assisi:
Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace;
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is error, truth;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
And where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master, Grant that I may not so much seek
To be consoled as to console;
To be understood as to understand;
To be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive;
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
And it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.
See? I read these words and I think, “Yeah, that’s how I want to be. That’s who I want to be” and it’s all about changing the petitioner, not other people—our perceived enemies. It’s all about how if we change ourselves, we can change the world and how we can be used to change the hearts of others by being that living, breathing extension of God’s love.
The next time my son mentions the boy with the black hair, we going to pray with him—more than just “God bless the boy with black hair.” We will ask God to show us a way in which we might help him have good behavior and we can ask that he be receptive to our help. In fact, I’m pretty sure that it is exactly what we are called to do. Amen.