My son turned five last week.
Sorry, I needed a moment to let that sink in. How in the world did that happen? I know every one says it goes fast and that you should cherish the moments because they will only be babies for a little while and blah, blah, blah. But who thought everyone was right? I didn’t. But they were. All of them. They grow up so fast. The other day he asked for tilapia, brussels sprouts, and potatoes for dinner. That’s a real person’s meal. Not a five year old’s meal.
So he’s five (I keep saying it, but it doesn’t seem real). He goes to pre-school, puts his own shoes on, is obsessed with Transformers, and plans on marrying a nice young girl from church. His mother and I are so proud.
He’s five, and he’s learning that the world is hard. A couple of weeks ago I picked him up from school and he cried all the way home because two kids in class didn’t want to play with him. It broke my hear because I know that feeling. I’ve been the kid on the outside of the circle trying desperately to get it. One of my biggest fears is that my son will know the pain that haunted me in school. And here’s the thing: my fear is legitimate because it will happen. It’s not a matter of if he will know that pain because he will get left out. He will be mocked. He will be hurt by his friends. As much as I want to protect him from that pain I cannot not. As a parent, I am sending him out in the world like a lamb to the slaughter.
I guess I don’t have to send him out in the world to get crushed. I could helicopter over him, hovering close by to protect him from any pain he might encounter. Anytime there is a possibility of pain SWOOOSH! in I come to save the day. Fall and I’ll catch you, bad grade and I’ll talk to your teacher, kids won’t play with you…I’m bigger than them. Sure, he may grow up thinking he is the center of the universe and bruise easier than a peach, but at least he won’t know pain. Maybe I’ll just lock the doors of the house with him inside. Honestly, there is a piece of me that wants to do that. But there’s a bigger piece of me that doesn’t want him to still be in the house when he is twenty-seven.
Truth is, I can’t keep him from getting hurt. All I can do, is prepare him for when he will get hurt. And so, after he cried all the way home from school we had a talk that went something like this:
It hurts when people aren’t kind to you, doesn’t? I know it does. When daddy was a kid, people didn’t want to play with me either. It made me sad and frustrated, and sometimes I cried too. I didn’t like how it felt when kids were mean, so do you know what I did? I pretended I didn’t want to be friends with people. I ignored some kids at school because I didn’t think they were cool enough. I wouldn’t tell kids about what I liked because I thought they wouldn’t like the same things as me and then they wouldn’t want to be my friends. I would do anything I could so I wouldn’t hurt any more. But do you know what happened? I still hurt. I felt lonely. And I wasn’t a very good friend to people.
Here’s what I want you to know, buddy. It’s okay to hurt. There is nothing fun about pain. It breaks my heart to hear that kids at school hurt you. But that pain won’t kill you. Some people may tell you that pain will make you stronger, but I’m not sure about that. I think when you hurt, you find out that you’re already strong. And when you know that you’re strong, you know you can handle the pain.
One of the reasons you hurt is because God gave you a big heart. I love that about you. You’re a kind and compassionate friend. Never stop being a good friend. Never stop loving people. Now, loving people means you’ll get hurt by others, and when you get hurt you will be sad and you may even cry. That doesn’t mean you are broken or weak. It actually means your heart is really strong and it is working the way it’s supposed to. You’re going to have to learn how stand up under the pain, but never stop hurting.
Hurting means you know when something is right. Hurting means your heart is working. And when you hurt when others hurt, you can help them better.
The hardest thing to learn is that you can’t control other people. I know you want to make kids play with and be nice, but you can’t. You can’t make people do what you want them to do. The only thing you can control is yourself. You get to choose how you will treat them. And even if kids hurt you, you can choose to be kind. I know it will be hard, but try and be kind no matter what.
You know how you feel right now? There are going to be times when it isn’t you feeling that way. Other kids in your class are going to feel sad and alone and like kids don’t like them. And you’ll be able to see that because you know what it feels like. When I was in school I wish I would have looked for kids who were hurting and helped them. I wish I would have sat next to them at lunch, or played with them at recess, or been their partner in class. I wish I was brave enough to kind to everyone.
God gave you the kind of heart that loves other people. Don’t be afraid to use it. Be brave, buddy. Sometimes the bravest thing you can do is love another person. So don’t be afraid of using the big heart God gave you. Use it to love your friends. Use it to look out for others. When you see another kid feeling like you do right now, and your heart hurts like their heart hurts, be brave and kind.
I can’t make it not hurt for you, buddy. I can’t take away your pain. But I don’t have to. Because you’re really strong.
And I’m beyond proud of you.