He was the insanely obnoxious, red-haired hooligan who sat behind me in my seventh grade “cut open this frog or you’re going to get an F” science class. His many endearing qualities included putting gum in my hair, shoving all my pencils down the vent so he could watch them spark and kicking the back of my chair every second like a giraffe with restless leg syndrome. Needless to say, he wasn’t my favorite person on the planet.
photo from animatorsisland.com, All Rights Reserved
I always had a feeling that Sid Bernard (also not his real name) had a harder life than most kids but even through his classroom terrorism I can remember a light in him that he didn’t want anyone to see… but I saw it.
Then, as in all awkward middle school narratives, I was paired with Bernard for the big unit project. It was the classic story: he did no work and we got an awesome grade. When the time came to write down if both partners had contributed, I thought about it, scribbled 50/50 and turned it in. I don’t know why, I guess I felt bad for him. After that, he always wanted to be my partner, and most of the time I begrudgingly said yes. And much to my surprise, with every assignment he started to help just a little bit more.
In high school, when not surrounded by his posse, Bernard would stop me in the hallways and ask how I was doing. It was a nice little friendship. I can’t remember the last time I saw or even thought about him. Graduation maybe?
This past week while racing about Cub Foods trying defend my shopping cart from the siege of processed foods, I sharply turned the corner and BAM: Bernard, right there in the cereal aisle. There was no doubt in my mind it was him, he was a little heavier than I remembered but he looked good and put together. We both fumbled a “hey”, a “how are you”, and a “how is life?”. Then, I noticed a little girl in pink footy pajamas holding on to his leg. He picked her up, held her close to his face and said, “Can you say hi to Sam? I knew him a long time ago. He helped your dad pass school.” The conversation didn’t go much further than that. He said, “take care and see ya around,” but there was something so much more settled in me to see that light again, shining so much brighter.
There are plenty of moments when I failed in my teen years, times I was part of the problem and didn’t stick up for someone when I should have. Yet, Bernard taught me an important lesson: there is light in every single person. YES there is good in that guy who forces his car in front of you during that life-changing 2 hour snow commute and YES there is light in that lady screaming “you’re a monster” at her five-year old.
Yet, Bernard taught me an important lesson: there is light in every single person.
We were all created by a God who is good, who unconditionally loves all of his children, and IS the light of this world. The pain and sadness of this life screws us up and we wander away from that light because we think we don’t deserve forgiveness or that God is simply too good to be true. Still I think that’s one of the biggest reasons we’re here: to remind people that even in the worst moments of their life they are worthy of love and belonging (and in the process) point them back home to Jesus.
The truth is people don’t need someone standing on a street corner preaching about God’s condemnation. Everyone’s pretty clear about what the bible says about abortion, homosexuality, or any sort of “sin” without your hateful Facebook posts and carefully painted picket signs. People need to experience God’s love first-hand to truly understand who God is.
I wasn’t trying to be compassionate to Bernard on purpose, I wasn’t thinking “I HAVE TO SAVE HIS SOUL!” I just wanted to show him there was more to life than putting a wad of Big League Chew in the scrawny kids messy hair. I like to think I made a difference in him.
Here is what “Bernard” wrote in my yearbook in 2001.
(Click on the picture to make it bigger)
I pray this week you get to help someone like Bernard who might just be struggling beyond belief. I hope you can find one small act of kindness to brighten someone’s day because that’s how we tell people about Jesus, by the choices we make and words we choose. In that moment when we decide to show compassion to people who don’t deserve it, God can shine through more than anything else we ever do here.
It’s a long walk through this world, but stand tall, you’re one day closer to being home.