Mom took one look at Josh’s face as he laid his schoolbooks on the table, and knew that it had happened again. She longed to take him on her lap and comfort him, but she knew that he would consider it “little-kid stuff.” After all, as he had informed her many times, he was now nine years old and too grown-up for such things. So she sighed and asked, “What happened this time?”
“Aw, that Tommy just looks for reasons to start fights. Joey and Billy and I were playing marbles, and he came and kicked our marbles out of the circle. It made us all mad. I remembered what you said about forgiving, though.” He looked at her soberly. “But Joey and Billy started hitting him, and when I tried to break it up, Tommy started pounding on me. He’s bigger than I am, and he got me down in the dirt.”
His mother regarded his torn pants and dirt-smeared face. “Son, I guess there will always be bullies in the world. But there is usually a reason for them being that way. What do you know about Tommy’s home life? Maybe he gets picked on there.”
“Well, I know that his folks are pretty poor. At least, his clothes are always too big for him. And somebody said they heard his dad yelling at him and talking bad to him. But that isn’t why nobody likes him, Mom. It’s because all he wants to do is start trouble.”
“Maybe he would just like to have a friend,” Mom said gently.
“How can he expect to have a friend when he picks on everybody?”
“I’ve discovered through the years that some of the people who act the worst are really crying out for attention. They’re the ones we should try to befriend.”
Josh looked doubtful. “He won’t let anybody be nice to him. He just says bad things and starts fights whenever anyone tries.”
“And people get mad and stop trying—right?”
“Right. But I did try today ’cause I remembered what you told me and what our Primary teacher told us last Sunday. So I forgave him. But look what happened—he beat me up!”
“Do you remember how many times you’re supposed to forgive, Josh?”
“Sister Price said that Jesus Christ told this one guy that he had to forgive seventy times seven times. She had us multiply it out on the chalkboard, and it came to 490 times!” He looked up at his mother with a lopsided grin. “Does that mean I have to let Tommy beat me up 490 times? There won’t be much left of me by then.”
“Of course not. You’re supposed to be doing something to make him not want to beat you up.”
“That’s the same thing Sister Price told us.” He frowned. “That’s easy for her to say, because she doesn’t have anyone like Tommy that she has to keep forgiving. And you don’t, either, do you, Mom?”
“Not now, Son, but let me tell you about an experience I had when I was around your age. My friends and I brought our dolls to school every day and played with them at recess. There was one girl, Ellen, who always made fun of us and called us babies. She said she hated dolls. One day there was a school activity at recess, so we couldn’t play with our dolls. When we went to get them after school, all their hair had been cut off and their clothes were torn. We were pretty sure Ellen had done it, because nobody remembered seeing her at the activity. We were ready to cut off her hair and tear her clothes to pieces.”
“Did you do it?”
“She’d gone home already, so we couldn’t do anything that day. My friends walked home with me, and all the way we planned how we’d get even with her the next day. We told my parents what had happened and what we were going to do.” She paused. “I’ll never forget how they looked at me.”
“Kind of like you looked at me?”
“Yes, I suppose so, Josh. Anyhow, Daddy told us the story of Jesus Christ wanting us to forgive seventy times seven, and Mother told us she knew that Ellen didn’t have a doll of her own—or much of anything else—because her dad had been out of work for a long time. She told us that we should take one of our nicest dolls and give it to Ellen and ask her to play with us.
“I didn’t want to do it, and neither did my friends, but after Mother talked to us some more about being an example, we decided to do it. We chose the nicest doll I had left, dressed it in pretty clothes, and took it to school the next morning. Ellen came in looking a little scared, but she came over to us and asked why we babies weren’t playing with our dolls.”
Mom wiped her eyes at the memory before continuing. “She backed away from us when we held out the doll.
“At first, she was suspicious and thought that we were trying to trick her. But when she saw that we meant it, she burst out crying. She told us that she’d never had a doll and that she was very sorry for what she’d done.
“We told her that we forgave her for what she’d done and that we wanted her to play with us from then on. And do you know what, Son?”
“She became one of our very best friends.”
Josh didn’t say anything right away, but after a few moments, he asked, “Would it be OK if I gave away some of my marbles?” When she nodded, he said, “I’ll call Joey and Billy and see if they’ll give him some too.”
The next morning as Josh left for school with an extra bag of marbles, Mom prayed that his experience would be a good one. That afternoon, a happy Josh rushed into the kitchen. “It worked, Mom! It worked! Joey and Billy and I asked Tommy to play marbles with us, and we said we’d give him some of ours. Tommy acted just like that girl, Ellen, acted—kind of scared and suspicious.
“He asked why, and when we said we’d like to have him for a friend, he said he didn’t have any friends. After we played marbles awhile, he said he was sorry he’d been so mean. We played both recesses and at noon. Can I ask him to come play some Saturday, Mom?”
He was silent for a moment, then said, “You know, I think that Jesus Christ knew that if we truly forgive someone, we probably won’t need to forgive them 490 times!”
“Yes, Son, I think you have it exactly right.”