Jackson didn’t invite the mean boy in his class to his birthday party.

He wanted to.

He took the invitation to school. He put it in the boy’s cubby. But when I came to pick him up later the white envelope and “Come Kick with me at my Tae Kwon Do” party invitation were back in Jackson’s own nook.

Unopened.

Three months earlier the boy was a constant topic of conversation at dinner. What he’d done. Who he’d yelled at. How he’d been bad. Every detail was pored over as my son tried to absorb and make sense of someone who operated outside of even Jackson’s six-year-old logic.

We talked long and hard about loving our enemies.

Parts of those conversations may have been harder for me than him. I had to internalize this particular Scripture in a practical way that – sadly – had never quite occurred to me before. When all I wanted to do was blurt out, “I wish that stupid kid would just leave you all alone or move to another class.”

But we persevered. Jackson kept coming home with stories and we kept coloring them in with how Jesus sees the mean kids of the world.

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46 If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? 47 And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? 48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” ~Matthew 5:43-48.

We started to pray for him. Even if they were small, “please help him to not be mean,” prayers.

And I was astounded to discover – yes, I know, astounded – that they were making a difference.

Jackson started to wonder more about the mean boy. We talked about how we only ever saw his dad drop him off or pick him up. We talked about what it might be like not to have a mom to come and get you. We stepped tentatively into the mean boy’s shoes and found it might not be all that comfortable being him.

And Jackson started to worry about the mean boy.

Started to plan ways to make him feel like he had a friend.

And the day that the teachers at school wouldn’t give the mean boy a cookie because he’d been bad, Jackson announced to me he was going to invite the mean boy to his birthday. My mouth may have actually gaped. It’s one thing to preach about loving one’s enemies, it’s quite another to invite them to your once-a-year-birthday party. I wasn’t nearly as certain about it as Jackson was.

But he insisted. We wrote out the invitation. He packed it in his backpack. And on the whole long walk the length of the corridor leading up to his classroom I could hear Jackson talking to himself; looking at the invitation and talking to himself.

“What if he’s mean? What if he shouts? What if he spoils the party?”

Then I heard him sigh and whisper again, “I’m going to invite him. I’m going to.”

But when I came to get him that afternoon, the invitation had not been delivered. And we would walk it all the way back down the corridor and home again.

It had been a very hard day with the mean boy. And my son was resolved in his decision that it would be a mistake to have him at the party. So we went home.

But here’s the thing – he wanted to love the mean boy.

He wants to figure out how to love the mean boy still.

And it seems to me — who has much less experience at this than my son — that the wanting is half the battle.

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