They'd just not quite been themselves for the past few days. They were moping, and I sensed a possible reason why. Testing the waters, I casually commented, "Maybe I'll call Mrs. Hall this morning and see if Lauren and Timmy can come over later today to play awhile." They both looked up from their books with the same expression - something between shock and agony. My mother's heart had recently observed that Lauren and Timmy had become enamored of the children of a new neighborhood family, and apparently had completely dropped by the wayside their longtime playmates, my children.
"Timmy won't come," my son mumbled as he lowered his eyes.
"Neither will Lauren," my daughter immediately added.
"What makes you say that?" I asked.
A little reluctantly, my daughter revealed her recent experience, "Lauren told me she'd already seen all the dress-up clothes I had, and they weren't any fun any more."
My son then blurted out, "Yeah, that's about like Timmy! He said he's been in our yard a hundred times, and played all our games, and..."
I saw their spirits sinking as they read more into those words, "I know all there is to know about you, and you're boring!" They were both bewildered, and deeply hurt.
I motioned to them to come sit on either side of me, and stretched my arms around their young shoulders. How I would have liked to have been able to shield their tender hearts from anything that could wound them, and yet I knew that any hedge I could try to make around them would never be impenetrable. I could not protect my children from the pain of feeling rejected, but I could try to steer them through to the other side of it.
"That really hurts, doesn't it?" I comforted, and their doleful eyes clearly agreed. I went on, "Would you yourselves want to make anyone else ever feel that way?"
"No!" they chimed in unison.
"It may be hard for you to understand right now, my dear ones, but being wounded in our hearts can be worth it." I drew them closer in my arms and looked deeply into their eyes. "How?" I saw written there.
"If we become more sensitive to not wanting to cause hurt to someone else," I gently counseled, "and, if we gain a little more caring and compassion for other people today than we had yesterday... Hmmm, think about this: Might there be any other kids in this big world who have felt left out and not wanted?" Up until then that possibility had not occurred to them. They pondered that awhile, and I could almost see their spirits stretching and growing.
"You've learned something, haven't you? You've had a taste of what rejection feels like. Do you think you might recognize that feeling in someone else a little more easily now?" They both nodded, perhaps already picturing in their minds someone they knew.
"If you had not felt this hurt, do you think you would be able to help a person who has been hurt in the same way you just have?" I knew that they both agreed that they could not have. My hunch that their hearts would embrace this newfound sensitivity as an opportunity was happily confirmed when they each started talking about a few people they wanted to befriend.
"We all have many more things we need to learn, even all the way up to old age - don't you reckon?" I continued. "You know what? Maybe Lauren and Timmy just haven't had a chance yet to learn that little song." I had baited their curiosity.
I quietly began to sing the little ditty, "Make new friends, but keep the old; one is silver, and the other is gold." Up to that point, my children had naively assumed that friendship was a "given", that friends would always be there. Now those first childhood friends weren't. Thus the growing pains. We talked awhile about old friends and new friends inevitably being a part of life. And we prayed together about discovering - and accepting - that life is not always as we'd like it to be.
"Maybe they will learn that song - sooner or later," my daughter said, with the beauty of forgiveness budding in her heart.
And then my young son surprised me with a noble request: "Can we pray for Timmy and Lauren, Mom?" I silently thanked our God, the great and gracious Teacher, that they had crossed a stepping stone in learning to live and let live. They had already grown in character through the hurtful experience. They had made a passage, they had found a bridge over troubled waters - and they were the better for it.