Raeya had a problem last night. I’m one of the pastors of the church and when one of your parishioners has a problem you are compelled to listen and take what actions you can to remedy the situation.
I was busy talking to Colleen about my sermon. I had not made some things clear during my sermon, and she had been questioning me about the unclear things. I think I might have blamed my neck and shoulder pain for my lack of clarity, but the truth is that even when there is no pain, I can be quite unclear. It is an occupational hazard for me. Things that make sense in my head, don’t necessarily make sense when they come out of my mouth. It was a deep and meaningful conversation with Colleen and I’m glad she took the risk to ask the questions.
We were deep into the conversation, when Raeya made her appearance. She is six. I’m at the age where I’m not very good with ages, but she is definitely a confident six year old. She has been well schooled in the ways of being a child who wants to talk to an adult and she waited patiently for a lull in the conversation with Colleen and then asked politely if she could speak to us. When a darling child like Raeya interrupts you, you are always quick to drop the conversation and find out what is so very important to her. This time it wasn’t about boys playing rough on the swing set or help in locating some missing friend or the fact that somebody had spilled juice on the carpet. This time it was a really big deal.
“Do you know what?”
Colleen and I shook our heads. How could we know?
“I have a problem,” she went on. It was a good start, admitting that there is a problem. Colleen and I leaned in. If one of the little ones has a problem, we are eager to help resolve it.
Raeya got a little catch in her throat and her eyes brimmed with tears. “Dad said that I could pick out the Christmas tree this year, but Mom picked one out already and it isn’t the one I wanted. I wanted a little one and she picked a great big one and it isn’t right since Dad said last year that I could pick it out next year and now I didn’t get to.”
She paused there. Wow. What could we say? Reuben and Danielle seem like such good parents. They clearly love their children and have a third one coming who should be showing up any day. They feed and clothe and educate their children. They provide well for them. Or so it seems on the surface. It was devastating to hear how fallible they are in the eyes of their lovely daughter. We sat for a moment in stunned silence.
I was a beat behind, but Colleen leaned in and clucked sympathetically and admitted that it was a sad state of affairs. How awful that poor little Raeya couldn’t pick out the Christmas tree. This is such a Village moment. We talk a lot at the Village about blocked goals and unmet longings. If our goal is to pick out the Christmas tree and we are a little kid, we require the help of adults and if they don’t cooperate our goal is blocked. Blocked goals often lead to anger and poor Raeya was clearly outraged about this sad state of affairs. If she were a bit further down the road, she might have recognized that the longing to pick out a Christmas tree is a good longing that would remain, at least for this year, an unmet longing and in so doing would be appropriately sad that things are not the way she wishes for them to be. She would be able to forgive her mother and simply move on in her grief. But Raeya is still a kid and that beautiful face under that lovely red hair was clearly upset and angry. A clear example of a blocked goal. Colleen’s empathetic face and her innate sympathy modeled a proper response to getting cut out of Christmas tree choosing and I think it might have helped Raeya move on.
“And you know what really makes me mad?” Raeya continued…
How could we know? How could we imagine that there would be something even more anger producing than not getting the Christmas tree of your choice? We were both at the edge of our seats waiting with bated breath…
“Mom and Dad have a wedding ornament on the tree and only they are allowed to touch it. It is from their wedding and me and Zander aren’t allowed to touch it. They can touch any ornament they want to touch, but we aren’t allowed to touch the wedding ornament. It really makes me mad they can touch any ornament they want and that they won’t let us touch the wedding ornament! It is not fair!”
It was quite a bombshell. It took us a moment to grasp the depth of this wrong. A wedding ornament off limits to anyone but Reuben and Danielle. Sure, it is a special ornament and the kind you don’t want Zander turning into confetti, but poor little Raeya is also shut out? It was devastating news and I wasn’t sure how I was going to approach Reuben and Danielle with the very compelling evidence of their abject failure as parents. The Village is all about community and yet there would be no communal touching of the wedding ornament. At the very least it seems to be a violation of Village values. Six year old Raeya can make quite a compelling case. Especially when she has tears on her cheeks.
How does one respond to such drama? Again, Colleen came through. She suggested that maybe Raeya and Zander could make a special kid only ornament and hang it on the tree. It seemed like a good path forward although it gave Raeya a way out instead of letting her sit in the pain of a sin filled world where parents deny their children the privilege of touching wedding ornaments and picking out Christmas trees. At the Village we call this ‘rescuing’. Instead of letting someone sit in their pain and cry out to God we try to rescue them. Still, when you look into Raeya’s tear filled eyes, you feel compelled to rescue her. Who could turn away from such a face? Colleen’s suggestion seemed a good one and it also seemed to calm Raeya down. Raeya skipped off to play with her friends. Sometimes all you really need to do is vent to another person. Another Village tragedy dealt with and resolved.
Or was it?
The longing of any pastor is that there be reconciliation between warring parties. Danielle, the alleged perpetrator of all this horror, walked by and I couldn’t help but share, in the moment, with her that I knew about the troubles between her and her six year old daughter. I told her about our conversation with Raeya. There are always two sides to a story, of course. There is another side of the story that would indicate that Raeya is not exactly the victim she portrays herself to be. I would recount the story here, but it was intertwined with a lot of giggles and laughter from her mom and me so I think I might have missed part of it. I had just, of course, preached on the Israelite’s grumbling about God taking them the long way to the promised land and the influx of fiery serpents and had made the case that we can be a pretty good grumblers ourselves and Raeya didn’t mention that she has her baby ornament and that Zander has one, as well, and they are special ‘just for them’ ornaments. Perhaps Raeya would have made a fine sermon illustration on complaining had she shared her story before the worship service instead of after.
The problem with getting part of the story is that we tend to take sides and triangulate. We assume one side is right and the other side is completely wrong. Each side presents their evidence in the light most favorable to their case. As arbiters, Colleen and I could only evaluate what we heard.
As for me, I’m on Raeya’s side. She is awesome. She is amazingly blunt and clear about her parents’ wrongdoing. I love that she felt free to come and complain to her pastor and a trusted woman in the congregation. I hope next year she gets to pick out the Christmas tree. And, for crying out loud, is it too much to ask to let a six year old touch a wedding Christmas ornament?
Reuben and Danielle can be so mean. 🙂
I’m still laughing this morning…