My memory for this one winds back 58 years. The place was a parsonage in New Westminster, British Columbia.
Bobby, our first grader, and Donnie, our third grader, were settled in bed for the night. I went upstairs to their bedroom, as I often did when at home, and sat down on the braided rug between their beds for a few minutes before lights out.
It was a good time for reflection, and sometimes significant issues bubbled to the surface before sleep came.
How did the day go? I asked. Anything special happen for either of you? I then prayed with them and went downstairs, stopping in the kitchen for a glass of water. The house was quiet.
Breaking the stillness, I heard footsteps descending the stairs. Around the corner into the kitchen came Donnie. He had something he wanted to tell me.
“Remember the money you asked the people to give to the missionaries last Sunday?” he asked his pastor father. “Yes,” I said. “Well,” he explained, “I went to some neighbors and asked for money for the missionaries but I really was going to keep it for the bike I want.”
“Did you get any money?” I asked. He said Mrs. Bird had given him a quarter.
“Do you want me to go with you to take that money back and say you’re sorry?” I continued. He thought he could do it alone. With that he turned and I heard the sound of his bare feet mounting the stairs.
Almost immediately I again heard footsteps descending. Around the corner into the kitchen came Bobby. He too had something he wanted to tell me.
Apparently his first grade teacher had placed some attractive packets of blank paper for classroom use on a table near the classroom door. Upon leaving school in the afternoon Bobby had picked up two packets and brought them home.
“Do you still have them?” I asked. “And are they unopened?” To both questions the answer was yes.
I remember thinking to myself: it’s a pretty stiff assignment for a first grader to go on his own to his teacher and face his wrongdoing. So I asked if he would like me to go to the teacher with him. He replied that he could do it by himself.
I waited a couple of days and then phoned Mrs. Bird. She confirmed that Donnie had been to see her and had returned the quarter with an apology. I also phoned the teacher and learned that Bobby had carried out his assignment by returning the two packets and saying he was sorry.
A father’s interest in the daily experiences of two boys had moved each to own an otherwise concealed wrongdoing. Two developing consciences had been quickened. The offenses were never spoken of again during their childhood.
I recognize that one such encounter will not bring about the full ordering of a child’s conscience. There must be many prompts, given by at least one external authority on that child’s pathway, preferably a parent. This will encourage honesty and give positive stimulation to the child’s developing moral signals.
As well, there must also be many occasions when such authorities in a child’s life help the child to say “I’m sorry,” or, make amends. Saying I’m sorry is a factor in teaching growing children to know right from wrong, and to understand the principle of “consequences”.
Blessed is the growing child who has at least one parent to lead the way — a parent with a healthy conscience, warm but firm relationships with the child, and the will to persevere when the issues are clear.
Parents must be careful not to laugh at a developing child’s little deceptions or brush them off as cute. They are stuff to be directed toward character development.
Even the most careful cultivation of a clear sense of right and wrong in a child cannot promise with certainty to bring the right long term results. God has made us all with wills that can resist goodness. Yet the odds are very high that faithfulness in training will have its positive effect in character formation.
It’s a joy to us that, “Donnie”, now “Don”, is today a father, a grandfather, and a churchman. As an editor he has dedicated the whole of his vocational life to making words speak clearly and he is the owner of Bastian Publishing Services in Toronto.
To God be the glory!
And it is an equal joy that “Bobby”, now “Bob,” is an active Christian, a husband, parent, and laryngologist who owns and practices in the Bastian Voice Institute in Downers Grove, Illinois.
To God Be the Glory!
Photo credit: Mandy Frediani (via flickr.com)