Loving the 'hard to love'

A Christian Science perspective on daily life

Hit first, talk later. This was the philosophy of a little boy in my daughter's preschool. His classmates' parents, including myself, were not happy. It was said that he had a problem "using his words."

One day my daughter told me that something had been taken out of her cubby - her own space where she kept her "valuables" - her coat, lunch, and stuffed toy for nap time.

She said everyone blamed this little boy for the theft. Everyone except my daughter. Having attended Christian Science Sunday School, she preferred to think about this child as she'd been learning - that he was included in the family of God's children, who would never want to do harm. She kept referring to this boy as her friend and refused to blame him for doing anything wrong, though to the parents and the rest of the kids, it seemed otherwise.

Soon, her belongings were back in her cubby, and nothing more was said about the incident at school. Very shortly after that, I met this little boy, and he told me my daughter was his "best friend." He had a sweet smile, and I couldn't imagine him acting as anything other than a valued friend in return.

I remembered this incident when I faced a similar, equally difficult situation last spring in a college class I taught. A disgruntled senior, who had waited to take the required class until the last possible quarter, was none too pleased to be surrounded by sophomores and a curriculum designed to meet their needs. He seemed unhappy with everything and even refused to purchase the textbook, claiming he already knew everything in it. When he publicly insulted me at the end of one class, I knew the situation had to be addressed.

I consulted with the director of undergraduate studies, who advised me to report him for breaking the student code of conduct. He could be severely disciplined, and possibly not graduate. But I chose, instead, to pray. I wanted to see this student as my daughter had seen her friend years earlier, and as Jesus saw all those whom he healed of sin and disease and raised from death - as God's child, perfect and loving as the Father who made him. I wanted to see this student in light of how Mary Baker Eddy described Jesus' vision of everyone: "Jesus beheld in Science the perfect man, who appeared to him where sinning mortal man appears to mortals" ("Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures," pp. 476-477).

This view, I found, had practical application. Following my prayers, when I lectured in class, I made eye contact with this student, whom I identified as being intelligent, curious, and engaged in the course work; I encouraged and included him in the class discussion. I called on him and responded positively to any contribution he made in class.

Pretty soon he had moved from the very back of the classroom, where he'd leaned against the wall looking bored and angry, to a desk in the middle of the room - with a textbook. My view of him had changed and so had his behavior.

Then he missed a class. In fact, he missed a whole week quite abruptly. He e-mailed me to explain his situation, and he requested an extension of a paper due during the week he'd missed. I responded with support and granted the extension.

When he returned the following week, he arrived to class early and met me behind the lectern to turn in his paper. His sincere thanks and polite apology for missing class were uttered in a most gracious, respectful way. He'd truly made a complete turnabout. He'd gone in a few short weeks from being disruptive and disrespectful to being who he actually is - God's "real" or "true" man, with all the integrity and grace that that includes.

Judge not
according to the appearance,
but judge righteous judgment.
John 7:24

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