Learning to Love
At our after-school gift exchange, the kids stood in a circle, eyes wide and eager as they held shiny presents in their tiny hands. I read a story, and each time they heard the words “left” or “right,” they passed those shiny presents accordingly. They giggled and sighed as they watched the presents pass around the circle.
And then, at the end, each held one gift.
We told them they could exchange their gifts, but only if there was mutual agreement, and only if they did so before they unwrapped their packages.
The mystery was part of the fun.
And of course, there was a chaotic shuffling of presents back and forth, the kids all cheering and yelling as though we were at a stock exchange.
But when the dust settled, one kid was lacking a gift.
“Where is your gift?” I asked Albert.
“I ate it,” he answered. When I gave him a quizzical look, he explained. “I traded my gift to Michael for a fortune cookie, and I ate the cookie already.”
A fortune cookie??
I confronted Michael. He explained, unabashed, that since Albert had agreed to trade for just a cookie, a cookie was all he got. So Michael had ended up with two gifts; Albert with none.
“Where is Albert’s gift?!” I demanded.
He had given it away to someone else. After tricking a younger, more trusting child out of his gift, Michael had simply given it away to someone else. And Albert, gullible and clueless, had accepted the cookie as fair trade for his gift.
I thought of Esau, tricked into selling his birthright for a bowl of stew — something so precious for something so fleeting.
I was so disappointed and angry. Even worse, the other kids admired Michael for being “smart” enough to trick Albert out of his gift. But, then again, I thought to myself, they are just children. Maybe I’m expecting too much from them. They are still learning how to behave, how to be generous and kind.
An End to Childish Ways
But, as I thought about it more, I realized something else.
It’s true that children are still developing their ethics and integrity, but isn’t it true that we, as adults, are also still developing our own ethics and integrity? Does that process ever truly end?
After all, Jacob and Esau were adults.
Perhaps no one has called me out recently, but I have certainly committed crimes that are as manipulative and selfish as stealing a child’s Christmas gift.
And, like the children I work with, I still have much to learn about how to behave and how to be generous and kind.
Paul wrote to the Corinthians:
When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways. For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love. (1 Cor. 13:11-13)
I have put an end to some of my childish ways, but not all of them.
Like Jacob and Michael, I know how to be dishonest in order to get what I want from those closest to me. And like Paul, I am still on the journey toward abiding in faith, hope, and love — doing my best to grow out of my childish ways.