I'm teaching third grade religious education this year. Last year, I taught kindergarten, so having older elementary students, plus the preparations for First Communion, makes it a wonderful challenge. Although I prepare for the day's class topic as best I can, I usually find some other topics coming up that I feel are important enough to dedicate an entire class session to. One such topic came up two weeks ago...
We were discussing prayer, not just the various forms of prayer, but also the people we pray for. I started asking, "How many of you pray for your parents?" All hands went in the air. "How many of you pray for your brothers & sisters?" A few hands less than the first time, apparently sibling dislike seems to be in full-swing for these third graders! After a few more questions, I decided to ask a more challenging one, "How many of you pray for people you don't like?" ("People you don't like" seemed a bit too generic, so one boy with a love of all things superhero volunteered the word "enemies.") With this question, almost no one raised their hand. So, I asked them the logical next question, "Why not?"
Naturally, they had all the usual reasons: "They're mean." "I don't like them." "They don't like me." I explained that although these things may be true, that was still no excuse not to pray for their enemies. After all, doesn't God love us all just the same?
I could tell this had gotten their attention, so I decided to explore the issue in further detail with them following week. I started the next class by reviewing the subject & asking them if anyone had prayed for their enemies (only a few hands went up). Then, I read them the story of Sidney & Norman. It's the tale of two pigs who each get an invitation to visit God. Norman, the prideful pig, learns that God loves him (and not because of his goodness), but is sad that he judges other pigs. Sidney, the troublesome pig, learns that God loves him, even with all his imperfections. At the end, the two pigs learn that God's love comes without any reservations.
The point for my third graders, and really for all of us, is that we should focus less on our supposed goodness or troubles & more on the infinite power of God's love. When we do that, we can see everyone as equally created in His loving & divine image. Only then can we love, pray for & take care of each other in the way we are called to as disciples of Christ.