I consider end-of-year awards for elementary-aged kids to be more akin to participatory ribbons, where every child has the opportunity to feel special for something. "Way to go, Johnny, you didn't send anyone to the hospital this year. You get the most improved bully award!" But when you pray for a child's character, some awards stand out above all the rest.
When we were expecting our firstborn, we prayed for his (or her, we wanted to be surprised) character. We prayed he would be caring and thoughtful, putting others first. We prayed he would be trustworthy and honest, being a light to the world around him. And we prayed that he would be joyful and a loyal friend, the type of kid everyone would want to be around.
Back in kindergarten, my son received the "caring" award. That, in and of itself, doesn't sound that impressive, but it is what he did to earn it that I am most proud of. There was a classmate who broke his arm in the middle of the year. While his cast was on, he wasn't allowed to go out and play during recess (I don't know if that was from the doctor or the parents) so he would spend recess-time reading or coloring in the office. Not wanting his friend to feel alone, my son would give up his recess time to hang out with him. (Of course this had the added benefit of being able to bring toys in that they could play with together. But oftentimes sacrifice can lead to other blessings.)
"I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.
" (Matthew 23:36)
Yesterday, my son won an "honesty" award. Again, the award itself wasn't nearly as significant as what it was for- he would frequently come to his friends' defense when another classmate would lie to get them in trouble. (And as much as he liked to argue when he was going through that 4-5 transition period, my wife and I would joke that he'll make a great lawyer some day.)
Earlier this week I went with my son on a field trip. Besides getting to spend that extra time with him, I was able to watch him interact with his friends. Driving home I asked him, "so of all your buddies, who would you say is your best friend." His answer surprised me; it was the main troublemaker in class. He continued, "I guess you could say I'm the friend to the bullies." I asked him why and he answered, "well, bullies don't have any friends and everybody needs a friend." Of course I warned him that "bad company corrupts good character" (1 Corinthians 15:33) but I did so with tears welling up in my eyes.
What proud parent doesn't want to boast about their child? But that isn't what this is about. No, my son convicted me and challenged my faith. His character is an answered prayer, I cannot forget that no matter how hard some days may be with him. But his character also challenges me. Am I willing to sacrifice my time- my playtime- for another? Do I stand up for others, valuing truth over friendships? And do I go out of my way to love my enemies the way that Jesus taught?
Maybe this is what Jesus meant when he said we need to be like little children?