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Volume 15, Issue 4: Virga

Thin Charity

Matt Whitling

Everyone was dead. That morning all life had ceased except that of a lone creator who began to bitterly rue his lack of complete sovereignty and even, in the midst of an overwhelming rush of emotion, began to cry. Brian's Lego tower had reached its twenty-seventh level of splendor and intricacy when Mary came in for lunch. She daintily set her backpack on the couch, pirouetted across the living room, and gave the rotating recliner a spin on her way past. The footrest caught Brian's Magnum Opus somewhere around the thirteenth floor, decapitating a glorious space needle and viewing tower along with the medieval knights on the battlements and the spacemen that had somehow come to perch on ornate plastic red turrets. He looked at this girl, his sister, through hot and moistening eyes. It had taken all morning to build Isengard, and the project wasn't yet complete. Mary paused one gleeful moment and chirped a giggling "Sorry, Bri" before continuing into the kitchen. Brian's six-year-old frame shuddered as he gazed at the debris—carnage all about the floor, irreparable damage on all sides, everyone dead. After a calculated moment of silence Brian mechanically cleaned up the remains and sped off to locate a fresh box of dental floss. There could be no mending of Isengard, so he bent himself toward making amends with his sister.

Dissension is seen at home or in the classroom when there is strife, discord, or wrangling among the children. It may be seen in arguments over whether someone was really out of bounds or not in the soccer game during recess or in constant low-grade squabbles between siblings over the dishes. Many parents and educators have been taught to call this a personality conflict or sibling rivalry. Separating the two conflicting personalities is often the recommended solution. God however, calls these sorts of rivalries and conflicts dissension, leaving no room for the creative euphemizer who seeks to dress up any old pasture-frisbee in a low-cut psychiatric prom dress.
In Proverbs 6:16-19 we find a list of seven things that God hates: a proud look, a lying tongue, hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked imaginations, feet that are swift to run to mischief, a false witness that speaks lies, and a man that sows discord among his brothers. God hates the man who stirs up dissension among his brethren, and men who are really good at stirring up this sort of trouble do not learn their trade as adults. Children face the same temptations to push buttons, spread gossip, and take revenge as their parents do, and with enough practice, they will become very good at it.
Previous installations to this column have discussed imitating our Heavenly Father's example of teaching, training, and blessing or cursing. A good place to begin teaching is Proverbs 6 (mentioned above) and then Ephesians 4:31-32, "Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice. And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ's sake hath forgiven you. Children need to know what dissension is and what God has said about it.
Training consists largely of using hypothetical situations to prepare children to respond faithfully in the midst of temptation. "Son, there will be times in your life when one of your brothers will do something that bothers you. At that point you have two obedient options: Either let love cover it (Pr. 10:12), or go to that brother and ask him to stop (Matt. 18:15). In the vast majority of these situations love should cover it—smile, realize that you have done similar things to others, and let it completely go. You should err on the side of graciousness and overlooking a grievance. If it is a more significant bump or a pattern that is developing, talk to that person respectfully and firmly and tell them to please stop."
In our family, if a child is asked to "Please stop" by a sibling, then he is required to respond with "Yes, sir" and knock it off immediately. If the offender does not respond appropriately and/or they do not stop right away, then the child who is offended comes and gets Dad. Dad hears the case, gathers information, and renders judgment. If the offended party decides to argue or threaten instead of coming directly to Dad (a real temptation because it takes work to get off your duff and come upstairs) then both children are in a jam. They have both disobeyed the direct commands of their father, and they've welcomed discord into the ranks. Teaching and training young people how to deal with grievances and dissension in principle will head-off a host of different particular situations that you as a parent or teacher will not be able to anticipate otherwise (ie. "Honey, what do I do, we've never told the boys not to. . .")
After lunch, Mary was on her way out into the back yard. The way was cunningly strewn with green-floss trip wires just five or six inches off the grass. Between trees, rocks, play equipment, and fence posts there were taut silent booby-traps. Brian settled into position under a large oleander and mused on the tantalizing possibilities of such a sweet revenge. In mere seconds she would come out that door and walk into his mine field. He imagined her coming out over and over again and walking through each trap successively. This would finally teach her to respect him the way that she. . . the door knob turned and Brian lowered his head behind the branches. Footsteps on the porch, a sharp cry of pain, and a muffled thud—Brian stood up, full of glee and self-satisfaction, to view his quarry. He had even planned what he would say to her in this moment of pain and embarrassment. He cast a triumphant eye toward his victim and there on the ground, face upturned and full of surprise and disdain, shin torn and bleeding, lay his father blinking up at him.

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