Many Gifts, One Body: a first grade lesson

Photo by gem66, via Flickr

Alex didn’t have a good last day of school. Silly school, they thought all the kids would enjoy a non-uniform day filled with nothing but outdoor games. (Well. And Mass. Can’t begin or end a school year without that.)

Alex thought he was going to enjoy it too, until he fell down in a three-legged race. After that, his teacher said, he, ahem, “didn’t seem to enjoy himself too much.” (She’s so unfailingly kind. I could never be a first grade teacher.)

By the time I picked him up, thunderclouds were swirling around his forehead, and there they stayed most of the rest of the day. Periodically he would burst out with, “I just didn’t have any FUN! I feel USELESS!” I left the baby in the merciless clutches of the middle two for almost ten minutes while I snuggled with Alex and tried to talk him out of it, but he would have none of it. People were mean to him because he wasn’t good at the games, and he just wanted to have a normal school day for the last day, because it’s more fun!

(Note: when we saw his teacher at church yesterday, she filled in a pretty big gap in Alex’s story. Namely, his classmates were giving him hugs and trying to make him feel better. Clearly we have some work to be done on ATTITUDE shaping MEMORY.)

The subject kept popping up all weekend, so my ears perked up during the Liturgy of the Word yesterday; the Pentecost epistle seemed tailor-made for this situation. And the next time he brought it up, I was ready. “You know, Alex,” I said as I was kneading bread on a Sunday afternoon, “we are not a family of athletes.”

He looked puzzled.

“If you tried to throw me a baseball, I couldn’t catch it.”

His eyes got wide. “You mean, never?”

“Pretty much. We’re just not good at sports. But we are good at music, and art, and puzzles. We’re smart people. Do you remember what the reading this morning said?”

He did not, of course. He probably didn’t even hear it, he was so distracted by acting as Michael’s self-appointed entertainment during church. So I pulled out my study edition of the Lectionary.

“There are different kinds of spiritual gifts but the same Spirit;
there are different forms of service but the same Lord;
there are different workings but the same God
who produces all of them in everyone.”
(I Cor. 12:4-6)

“Do you understand?” I said. “God gives everyone different gifts. You may not be as good as other people at sports games, but you’re a whole lot better at other things.”

He didn’t say much, and I let it go. I’m a realist. I know this mini-lesson is not going to neutralize the pain of feeling less-than. But it’s a seed planted against a bright future. Only the Spirit can make it grow.