I have always taught my children that love is stronger than hate. Countless stories in history illustrate this, and of course, there is the Ultimate Example in Scripture. It’s funny, though, how real life can come crashing through our ideologies. Reality, for us, came in the form of eleven scraggly, nine to twelve-year-old boys.
They stood barefoot, on cracked cement, daring my kids to play in their own yard. Most of these boys came from single parent homes where their mothers worked long hours, leaving them unsupervised. My kids had been afraid to leave the house for several days.
My boys needed to defend themselves in order to win respect, yet I didn’t want them becoming part of some “might makes right”, Darwinian culture. As I was contemplating, a fairy tale my old pastor had written came to mind. The main character, needing to be a hero, but not having the weapons to do so, began shouting, “Love is powerful to save!” I realized more clearly how we needed to fight.
I looked at these insecure ragamuffins, trying desperately to find communion with each other in a common enemy. Waiting behind an open door, I sent my boys out. The moment they saw me they would disperse. My boys were to defend each other, with cheer, not anger, as if they were tumbling with friends. It didn’t matter if they won. What mattered was that they were brave and kind. Then they were to invite the little “gang” over and attempt to befriend them. Our story would be stronger than their story.
First there was a loud scuffle, then talking, and then fourteen boys sitting happily on my front porch eating popsicles. My twelve year old later told me, “They all jumped on me, but then started fighting each other. So, I crawled out and invited them over.”
They talked, comparing home school to public and picking favorite T.V. characters. Soon the conversation turned. The leader whispered to my son, “Shh, don’t tell your mom, but go get the rest of the popsicles from the freezer.” When my son refused, the boy bragged, “I steal all the time, ’cause I’m sneaky like that!”
My son asked, “But don’t you ever think about the people you steal from?”
At this, my boys were declared “nerds” and many of the neighborhood kids moved on, leaving popsicle wrapper scattered. The bullying subsided, though. The few remaining boys became regulars at our house. By the time we moved they had heard the gospel many times. They joined us for Sabbath dinner, holding their own in Bible memory games. When they were mean, we would step aside and pray together for God’s forgiveness. They tagged along for church and played catch with my husband afterward. During the summer, they would appear after breakfast and stay until bedtime. Their attitudes toward life began to change.
It would be convenient to end my story here, nice and tidy. Gospel living, though, is messy – like a war. At first, my kids tattled on the neighbor kids, appalled at some of their behavior. After a while, they began to look on them as friends. As I attempted to order the affections of the children in my neighborhood, they were in turn influencing my own children’s desires. My kids liked this loose culture. There was no mortification of the flesh, no self-sacrifice. One son began sagging his pants. My daughters imitated inappropriate dances neighbor girls copied from MTV. My boys decided it was cool to pick on their little sisters. A hardness entered their hearts.
My older kids understood the concept of “worldview”. They were being classically educated, after all. We had spent time in history class watching ideas incarnate themselves into culture. My boys could use inductive logic to point out textbook fallacies. I noticed their knowledge become fuzzy and their logic twisted, as they tried to excuse unacceptable behavior, songs and movies. The enemy was not attacking their logic and knowledge alone; he was attacking their heart. Without love, these tools were nothing.
I began turning the neighbor kids away. My arrows were not yet sharp enough for more. How my heart saddened as I watched my influence wane! I turned my attention to my own quiver. It took many conversations, much prayer and perseverance, but their hearts did eventually soften- a more awake, more aware soft. They had always known they were sinners. Now they really understood. I questioned the value of all we had done for our neighbors. Would everything I taught them be lost in the fog of childhood memories?
The family we had grown closest to was evicted. Before they left, their mother visited. She explained how a nice, Christian family had offered her a rental house for less than half its value. This family had visited often and had made an effort to become part of her life. I smiled. Their story was not over yet. My mistake in all this was to think so much was dependent on me. Others were fighting this same battle. Love is powerful to save, but not my love.
Soon after, we moved also, to a middle class neighborhood. Broken cement and beer bottles have been replaced with perfect hedges and shiny cars. The side-walks lie empty. Everyone is busy living their own life. I am much more careful to prioritize my own kids. They are my first mission field. Yet, I believe God put us in this neighborhood with some intention. How else will my children learn to love their neighbor if they are not apprenticing now? So, here we are. No one is knocking on our door or even throwing rocks for us to respond to. Love is stronger than apathy? Pride? Love is stronger than individualism? Busy materialism? My own timidity? Our story is just beginning in this new place. I don’t know how the story will go, but I do know this: His love is powerful to save.