Relational mistakes show up even in kindergarten.
The Art of Friendship
By Kim Wier
Everything I need to know about the struggles of friendship I learned in kindergarten, not as a student but as a substitute teacher. My instructors were five year olds and the lessons they taught showed just how early relationship mistakes begin to bloom.
1. Every human being is born with the desire to record wrongs and get even. Kindergarten is the perfect place to see this. Though at this young age this desire is disguised as tattling, the principle is the same. Both are founded on the need to tell someone else’s business and see them get what they deserve. “Mrs. Weird!” (The children could not say my name without a “d” on the end.) “Bobby is out of his chair.” “Mrs. Weird, Sally isn’t supposed to get a drink without asking.” “Mrs. Weird, John is at the block center and he didn’t finish his worksheet.” When I naively tried to teach them about the importance of being a loyal friend, I was interrupted. “Mrs. Weird, Katy has her colors out while you’re trying to talk.” Somehow, they missed the point.
2. Selfish ambition plagues even the very young. The phrase, “Me first,” was second only to “I’m telling.” Whether it was lining up to leave the room or turning in homework, the future grown-ups wrangled for the best position. They cut in front of friends, gave persuasive speeches about why their table should go to recess first, and generally finagled for any advantage. No place was this urge to be better than their friends more evident than when we played a phonics game. The loser’s disappointment went unnoticed as the victor celebrated his moment of glory. Who knew correctly reading the word bad could feel so good?
3. The human desire to get even is in full bloom by age five. This I discovered when I pried one child from the headlock another initiated. In explaining why he chocked his classmate, the little boy said, “He tripped me first and it wasn’t very nice.” The gasping offender got the message.
4. No wrongdoing is out of the reach of even the youngest in our human race. In the three days I substituted, I saw jealousy, anger, hatred, arrogance, boasting, revenge, cheating, greed, lying and envy. All the stuff of a great soap opera was played out in pigtails and blue jeans. Or as the Bible puts it, “The acts of the sinful nature are obvious” (Gal. 5:19), even in the very young. It was a harsh lesson in reality.
That isn’t all I learned in kindergarten. I also saw the potential that resides inside every human soul to be a friend. The same child who pushed also shared. The one who wrestled made me a valentine. The compulsive tattlers were also contagious huggers and smilers. More stunning was the zeal each one of those littles had for hearing the daily Bible story and the eagerness in their voices as we talked about God and as they prayed. The gentleness and sincerity of their prayers revealed the potential of a life yielded to God. Only through his intervention could a nature so bent on selfishness grow to be selfless. That is because “the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other” (Gal. 5:17).
Thankfully, for those of us who still see glimpses of kindergarten conduct evident in our lives and our friendships, we can also rely on the Spirit to bring transformation. Paul reveals this is possible because:
“Those who belong to Christ Jesus have nailed the passions and desires of their sinful nature to his cross and crucified them there. Since we are living by the Spirit, let us follow the Spirit’s leading in every part of our lives. Let us not become conceited, or provoke one another, or be jealous of one another.” – Galatians 5:24–26
“The Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things!” – Galatians 5:22–23
By giving the Spirit, instead of the flesh, control, he can replace with kindness and self-control our temptation to count wrongs and get even. We can overcome complaints with joy, selfish ambition with sacrificial love, and anger with patience and gentleness. In other words, with the help of the Spirit, we can grow up. That is good news when we are discouraged by the bad habits that have dominated our relationships.
Excerpted from The Art of Friendship by Kim Wier. Bethany House, a division of Baker Publishing Group. Copyright 2020. Used by permission. BakerPublishingGroup.com