There are these three boys next door who think my son is the coolest. They stand at the wall between our houses and call his name; or sometimes, if they’re feeling brave, they come to the door and ring for him. There’s nothing unusual about any of that except that Seth is nearly 13 and the boys next door are six, five, and three. It’s a strange friendship, to be sure, but Seth is the sort of good-natured fellow who takes genuine pleasure in creating fun and adventure for the kids next door.
Were they brats, Seth might not be so enthusiastic, of course, but the truth is that the half-pint neighbors are delightfully charming. They’re around frequently enough that they and I have even developed a standard greeting: “Hey,” I’ll bellow, as I climb out of my car, “what’s the big idea?!?”
“Nothing!” they respond in perfect unison, grinning each time at the familiar ritual. In fact, it’s gotten so that when they see me they’ll often yell “Nothing!” even before I have a chance to say my line. Irresistible.
These are very little boys who nevertheless show few of the tendencies you and I might otherwise ascribe to three so young and so, um, related. They do not squabble. They do not tease. They don’t even show any open resentment toward the youngest for always tagging along and asking the sorts of inane questions that tend to drive older brothers crazy. And recently it occurred to me that, in spite of all of the play and competition and backyard sports in which they and Seth engage, I had never heard any them cry.
Had never. A couple of weeks ago, I was summoned to the backyard by Seth, who was in full-blown panic. I came out to discover water gushing out of my automatic sprinklers. The little fellow in tears—heartfelt tears—was trying to explain that it was all an accident. They were playing some sort of incomprehensible game involving the bocce balls, and one of those heavy wooden spheres had come down hard on the sprinkler mechanism and cracked the main. They didn’t mean to, he kept insisting. “I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry.” I had to shut off the water completely in order to also shut off the tears.
As it turned out, the automatic sprinkler array had to be completely rebuilt because of the precision placement of that crack. I had to ask for outside help, and the grass went unwatered for days until the work was complete. I don’t know what that’s going to cost me, but you can rest assured that the project was not in the budget.
Nevertheless, I am neither angry nor annoyed. How can I be upset at a little boy for an accident? In truth, I’m not even a little upset. If he had been defensive or belligerent, or if he had denied responsibility, I suppose I would be grumbling about the whole thing. But the fact is that he was genuinely contrite, remorseful in a way that leaves me still feeling sorry for him. I found myself wanting to comfort him, reassure him, make his pain go away. I wanted him to feel deep down that there was no real harm done, that I had forgiven him even before he had asked for my forgiveness.
In light of those very real, very human, very familiar emotions—his desperation to be forgiven and my heartfelt desire to reassure him and forgive—is it even somewhat difficult to believe that God will forgive us of our misdeeds? If we mortals are capable of such compassion, imagine how much more profound is the love of God directed toward those who come to Him with broken hearts and contrite spirits. Imagine how willing He is to lift our sorrows and heal our pains. “Come unto me,” Christ says, “all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28).