“Beauty and the Beast” was the spring musical performed by students at my grandchildren’s middle school this year. In the story, an angry, deformed Beast regains his former princely nature in response to the patience and selflessness expressed by a young woman imprisoned in his castle. Since I was writing the press release for the production, I had the opportunity to interview the students and to ask them what lessons they had learned from the Beast’s experience. Someone said that perhaps the Beast had never been taught to treat others kindly. Another said that perhaps he did not realize that unkindness could have such terrible consequences.
I was touched by their lack of condemnation and willingness to forgive. This reminded me of another story I love about redemption and forgiveness – a story Christ Jesus told about a young man who audaciously asked his father for his inheritance while his father was still alive (see Luke, Chapter 15, in the Bible). Unfortunately, the son’s self-indulgent behavior resulted in him wasting his entire inheritance, leaving him destitute.
Repentant, and believing he had lost his father’s love, he headed home, hoping he’d be allowed to work as a servant. But when his father saw him, he was overjoyed and ran to greet his son. He showered him with love and symbols of sonship – the best robe, a ring, and shoes – communicating to all that his stature of sonship was intact.
If one has made a mistake, one might be tempted (like the son in this story) to feel unworthy of redemption and forgiveness. But my study of Christian Science has shown me how to think differently, more spiritually, about our nature as the children, or expression, of God, divine Spirit. It has helped me see that because man’s heritage is composed of spiritual qualities, such as love and purity, these cannot be wasted, lost, or overspent, but are ever available for us to express each day. This is explained in the Christian Science textbook this way: “In Science man is the offspring of Spirit. The beautiful, good, and pure constitute his ancestry” (Mary Baker Eddy, “Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures,” p. 63).
As we’re willing to accept this idea, then we find it’s both natural and a pleasure to behave in ways that express these qualities and encourage them in others. I saw this to be true some years ago when I was teaching. I had invited a guest speaker to share his expertise on a curriculum topic with my class, and he brought along some memorabilia to enrich his presentation. After an enjoyable talk, the speaker began packing away his belongings and noticed that a valued medal was missing.
When no one in the class admitted to taking the medal, I took an approach I’d found helpful in other situations: I reached out to God in silent prayer. It was a Christian school, so I asked the students to pray as well. My own prayers affirmed everyone’s identity as the child of divine Love, God, who guides us to be upright and honest. I felt with conviction that dishonesty is not a quality from God, and therefore has no place in anyone’s true nature. And I prayed to know that our relation to God, the source of our identity, can never be broken.
Shortly afterward, the lunch bell rang, and as the students were leaving the classroom, one boy stayed behind and quietly gave me the medal. He apologized for his behavior and admitted that he had made a mistake. I thanked him for doing the right thing and gently reminded him that God gave him the strength to say “no” whenever he was tempted by such thoughts. I assured him that there’d be no further action, and he was very grateful that he was forgiven. There were no further incidents with the boy stealing. Knowing that everyone’s true heritage is spiritual and Godlike enables us to put aside improper behaviors and to sincerely and joyfully accept the opportunity for a fresh start.