These, my friends, are REAL quotes, from REAL kids on the safety patrol at our neighborhood school. (The names have been changed to protect the VERY, OVERLY innocent.) Every day I chuckle on the walk home after all our interactions. They are just too stinkin’ adorable…
“Katrina! Get back to your spot! You can’t be on the grass! If you trip and fall you’ll crack your head open on the street and then a car will run over you and you’ll die! You wanna die?!”
“Nathaniel, pay attention! You’ve got people to cross! Hold out your hands!”
“Did you see that kindergartener in that car? He was WAY too short to be sitting in the front seat like that. He was TINY! That is NOT safe!!”
“Alexia, get on your side! You’re on the wrong side!”
“What the heck, Tyrell?! You can’t cross people like that! You gotta follow the rules!”
“Pablo! Stop dancing! Be serious.”
Pablo is NEVER not dancing. Obviously, Pablo is my favorite. (Although he’s followed a close second by smiley kid who always tries his hardest to push the button as soon as he sees me coming so we don’t have to stop at a “red light.” I cannot handle their cuteness, I tell you.) Ok, back to Pablo. Yes, the irony is that this kid is so charming and so wins me over, and most of the time when people feel this way about a kid it’s because they see something of their own selves in them. It’s the opposite with me. I would never have been dancing Pablo. I would’ve been the quiet, tense, stressed out girl who was freaking out on the inside that the other kids weren’t following the letter of the law.
So it makes sense that my offspring would also be rule followers. Our first grader has an OBSESSION with rules. On her first day of school, most of her report to us was a rundown of who was listening and following instructions and who wasn’t. The next day her “low” point of the day was when she pointed out to another student that they were not following the rules, and was met with less than gratitude from her classmate. Shocker.
When we probed further, it turned out that this 1st grade offender had taken more than two paper towels after washing her hands at bathroom break. When I couldn’t hold in my giggle, Audrey scolded: “MOM! The sign said ‘NO MORE THAN TWO PAPER TOWELS’ and she took MORE THAN TWO PAPER TOWELS! If she breaks the rules, she won’t get entered into the drawing for a prize, I’m just trying to HELP her!!!” I desperately tried to contain my inner laughter as I helped her picture how this “rule breaker” might feel, how scolding her may have come off as, shall we say, less than helpful. Her eyes glazed over and she was a deer in headlights. Totally lost. As we Southerners say, “bless her little heart.”
After the first couple weeks of school and MANY conversations similar to that first one (which still makes me laugh), I decided maybe we should have a heart to heart about the whole “rule” thing. I know where this whole getting-stressed-out-about-the-rules thing can lead, from experience. The only difference between her and me are that she’s not timid about calling out others’ infractions. In fact, she sees it as her duty.
“Honey, do you know why we sent you to your new school?”
“Because you thought I would like it?”
“Well, yes, we did think that. But we sent you there because we really felt like it was where God wanted you to be. And God wants you there for a reason.”
“He does? Why?”
“Well, I don’t know all the reasons, we’ll figure it out together. But I have a hunch about what the reasons aren’t. Do you think he sent you there so you could make sure everyone is following the rules? Or is that part of the teacher’s job?”
Sheepishly: “…the teacher’s.”
“Did you know that every day when you walk into your classroom, God is with you?”
“Yeah, God is always with us.”
“Yep. So picture Jesus going into your classroom. What do you think would be most important to him? How do you think he would treat your classmates?”
“He’d be nice.”
“Of course. What else? Do you think that the most important to him is that every kid is following all the rules? Would he spend his time stressing about that?”
“NO, Mom, of course not.”
“Exactly. What do you think he cares most about?”
“I don’t know.”
“Well, he cares that every person there knows how much they’re loved. He wants them to know they’re special, that he cares about them, and he wants them to know him.”
“Yeah, that makes sense.”
“So every day when you go to school, instead of worrying about who’s following the rules and who’s not, I want you to be thinking about how you can show everyone that they’re loved. Let’s think of some ways we can do that.”
This will be a long, slow process. The reason I know this is that I am 28 years old and I am still finding hangups in myself over this. I love boxes. I love to have people easily classified and perfectly fitting in nice categories in my brain. And God’s always kindly and gently breaking down my boxes, emptying them all out together in a messy pile. So infuriating. He’s always asking me to step into someone else’s shoes and look at life and God and people through their eyes. Sometimes that’s harder than I’d like to admit, but it is OH SO freeing, and OH SO good for me. It’s the only way to move toward “loving my neighbor as myself.”
Sometimes when I’m feeling angsty about someone who’s doing things differently than me, “breaking my rules,” I picture God with a twinkle in his eye, walking up to me in my safety patrol uniform and tousling my hair. He winks and smiles, and says, “Lighten up, kid.”
It all comes back to the most important thing. Love God with all my being, and love my neighbor. Jesus said all the law and the prophet’s teachings can be summed up with those two things. God’s rules are: LOVE.
How has getting hung up on rules, boxes, or labels been holding you back from love? Let’s take off our safety patrol uniform for today and look at the world through anothers’ eyes.