Juan came in with deep gouges in his arm. He said his dog had done it. Those marks weren't from a dog. Then another student, Chris, had deep scratches on his face and arms. His little brother had beaten up on him while his dad held him down. Apparently, he'd hurt his younger brother earlier.
We've all heard and agonized about far more serious cases of abuse, but Juan and Chris (not their real names) were my friends, sitting right in front of me as we read together. This was immediate. And deeply troubling. I couldn't imagine what life might be like with that kind of treatment at home, the very place that should be the safest.
Juan's teacher took steps required by school procedures. I'm not sure anything was done on Chris's behalf.
The wounds healed. But my training suggested that such treatment over time would leave scars inside, scars that wouldn't heal - lack of self-worth, insecurity, and fear.
My usual response to anything troubling is to pray. I like to take my questions to God. The abuse was of immediate concern. But I'd already been wrestling with the obvious inequities among the children in my small city. (Juan didn't own a book; other kids I know have large collections of books.)
The Bible was helpful. It contains such strong statements about God as our Father - a strong, loving Father. I knew the boys were included in God's loving care. I could even hear God saying to me, "These are my boys. I am their Father." That was helpful, but I still wrestled. I kept asking God to show me what I needed to know to feel at peace about my two friends.
And then my answer came. It had to do with the Christ. In a book about the Bible, "Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures," Mary Baker Eddy wrote that the Christ is how God speaks to each of us, telling us who we are, telling us what it means to be the image and likeness of God, telling us about how God is fathering and mothering us, comforting us, encouraging us, and wiping out fear with those messages that we are always with God and always His beloved. This wonderful Christ-message comes one to one in exactly the way we can understand it. The Christ speaks to little kids. And it speaks in every language. The Christ is impelled by God's universal love. Everyone gets those messages.
I saw that what really matters, what really makes a difference in our lives, is what we know about ourselves. Those Christ-messages give us spiritual strength, an inner peace, because of the assurance that we are worthy to be loved by God. There is nothing more satisfying or important than that.
I was sure both boys (and everyone else for that matter) were getting that message from God saying, "You are my child. I have made you to be wonderful. You are of great value to Me. I love you." What could be more satisfying? The gouges and scratches couldn't wipe out this message or change anything about who those boys really were.
Likewise, all the things in the world - books, toys, high-priced sneakers - can't give that assurance. Knowing that you're God's child is everything. That self-knowledge will enable you to face whatever comes your way.
I wish Juan and Chris had the advantages other kids have. But I know the Christ is giving them the most important thing.
I found my peace, knowing that the universal Christ was speaking to all the kids in the world. I was grateful that the Christ had come to me with what I needed to know about God's care.
There's a postscript. One time Jesus told his disciples about the magnitude of God's love. He said that God knows even little sparrows, which have almost no monetary value. Nothing is insignificant to God's love and care. Well, Chris's mom bought him a hamster. It was his very own pet to care for and to cuddle and to love. He treasured that little golden hamster. For lots of reasons, this was a most perfect gift from God. And it was a gift for me, too. It deepened my understanding of the precision and totality of God's dear love for us all.
I continue to pray about the boys and to include all the children in the world in my prayers. I know many others are praying for the children as well. Praying that God in His infinite wisdom and love watches over and cares for them. And keeps them safe.