“A Hard-Fought Lesson,” Ensign, Oct. 1986, 62–63
I could hear my ten-year-old son crying even before he opened the door. I glanced at the clock above the oven and realized that he was late coming home from school.
As the front door closed and I turned to look at him, I was startled. His usually smiling, eager face was bruised and bloodied, covered with tears and dirt. The mud caked on his jacket and jeans added to the dismal picture. Between sobs, he haltingly told me what had happened while I dabbed at his swollen face with a washcloth.
Tearfully he explained that he and another boy had begun arguing while waiting in line for the school bus. As he and the other boy rode home on the bus, they kept quarreling. They decided they would settle the disagreement as soon as the bus stopped.
I wasn’t surprised to learn that the other boy involved was notorious in the neighborhood for getting into fights. I believed what my son said about trying to avoid the fight. But he had finally given in and accepted the challenge. His tears, completely unrestrained now, were coming not so much from his bleeding nose and his scrapes and bruises as from his feelings of humiliation at losing the fight and watching the other boy return home with a victorious grin and hardly a scratch.
I was accustomed to neighborhood squabbles. This wasn’t the first time we had had problems with this particular boy. As I looked at my son, I thought, “How could this kind of thing happen to him? He would normally go out of his way to avoid something like this.” I felt an overwhelming desire to encourage and comfort him—to make him feel better somehow.
But what could I tell him? I watched anxiously, hoping for some help, as he descended the stairs to his bedroom to change his mud-stained jeans.
I slipped into my bedroom and offered a short but fervent prayer, expressing to Heavenly Father my own, as well as my son’s, need for help. What could I say or do to help him? My prayer was answered moments later, as I opened my scriptures and read:
“But I say unto you, that whosoever is angry with his brother shall be in danger of his judgment. …
“Therefore, if ye shall come unto me, or shall desire to come unto me, and rememberest that thy brother hath aught against thee—
“Go thy way unto thy brother, and first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come unto me with full purpose of heart, and I will receive you.” (3 Ne. 12:22–24.)
I read the scripture through again. In my heart I prayed, “But Heavenly Father, he’s just a boy. And he didn’t even start the fight. He’ll feel worse than ever when I read this with him.” Still hoping I had misinterpreted the answer, I kept questioning: “Isn’t there another way he could learn from this? Isn’t there something else I might tell him?” It’s one thing if you start the fight and win—and then you decide to apologize. But why do you have to say you’re sorry when you’re the one who was beaten—and you didn’t want to fight in the first place? The advice in the scriptures might be fine for an adult. But it seemed just too much to ask of a child! And yet I couldn’t deny that I had received an answer; there was nothing to do except teach what the Lord had taught me.
My fears proved correct. Still not enthusiastic about sharing my inspiration, I tried to explain to my son what I had read. He became increasingly upset. He understood that what had occurred was wrong, but he couldn’t imagine how he could possibly apologize—especially when he didn’t feel at all sorry.
He still felt angry with the other boy. But as we talked he began to understand that his feelings of bitterness and resentment needed to be resolved. And as we discussed his feelings, I felt a wonderful new impression of love for him. It was the sort of unconditional love I heard about but had never experienced to this degree. This love encompassed me and I wanted to share it with my son. I recognized what a difficult thing it was to apologize, and that the important thing was for me to teach him the principles of repentance and forgiveness and then allow him the freedom to decide what he would do. Filled with this special love, I assured my son, with complete honesty, that my love for him would be the same no matter what he decided to do.
As we finished our conversation, he seemed more frustrated and distraught than I had ever seen him. He wanted to do the right thing, yet I knew how difficult it would be for him. I was still worried that I had laid too large a burden on his small shoulders. Even as he went to bed that night he tearfully told me that he couldn’t think of anything but the fight. He still didn’t feel like apologizing. But he also told me that he wanted very much to do as Heavenly Father asked.
For the next few days I imagined a glowing success story. I could picture my son swallowing his pride, offering his apology, and then feeling warm and good about himself again. My idealism faded a bit as I watched him gradually recover from the incident on his own. After a few days he was himself again.
He didn’t apologize first; the neighbor boy did. That, of course, left the way open for my son to return the apology. I was a bit disappointed that my son hadn’t apologized first, but my feelings of unconditional love for him remained with me.
I am sure my son will remember the fight. I hope he will also remember the counsel I gave him. But gradually I realized that perhaps the incident taught me more than it taught him. Although it was difficult for me to accept, I now understand that the Lord doesn’t change his commandments to fit the individual. His commandments remain firm, and he allows us our individual freedom to follow them or not. And he loves us even when we stumble. The almost overwhelming love I felt for my son was a wonderful blessing. I now feel that I understand more fully the kind of love the Savior has for each of us.