by Dale Hanson Bourke
Something about the look on my son’s face made me suspicious. “Did you have a nice day at school?” I asked. He nodded, then looked at the floor.
“Did anything extra special happen today?”
“No, not really,” he replied.
“How’s your bean plant doing?” Chase’s face brightened. The kindergartners were growing bean plants, and for some reason his had shot up above all the others. For days, Chase had been the envy of his friends as his plant towered over the other little sprouts.
“It’s still growing,” he said excitedly. “Pretty soon it’s going to go to the ceiling!”
I noticed that Chase gestured with one hand while the other remained in his pocket. Suspicious, I asked if he had brought anything home from school.
“Not really,” he answered, once again looking at the floor.
“What’s in your pocket?”
The look of surprise and obvious guilt on my son’s face almost made me smile. My son is too young to act, too innocent to hide his feelings. But I could see he was struggling with something that he knew was wrong.
Slowly, carefully, he pulled the treasure from his pocket. Opening his fist, he displayed a wrinkled bean.
I tried to catch Chase’s eye, but he looked away. I could not imagine what was causing such a struggle. “Where did you get the bean?” I questioned gently.
“At school,” he responded softly, shuffling his feet.
“Did your teacher give it to you?”
“Not really,” Chase whispered. “It was just an extra one.”
“Did you steal it?”
My words sounded harsh, but from the look on Chase’s face I knew he understood. It wasn’t just an extra bean. It was something he wanted and took without permission. Taking the bean was a great wrong, and Chase knew it.
“I guess so.” My son seemed almost relieved by his confession. “I just wanted to grow another bean plant at home like the one I have at school.”
There was more to this story, I realized. Chase’s bean plant had put him on top among his peers. He had been king of the kindergarten every morning when class began and his friends saw his plant, bigger than the rest. Chase stole the bean because he loved the feeling of being ahead. It was a deeper problem than a five-year-old could understand.
I didn’t want to minimize the wrong, or overwhelm him with guilt. But this was not just about a bean. If Chase didn’t understand that, it would be easier for him to cross over the line the next time.
“I know you love your bean plant at school, and I can understand why you wanted to grow another one,” I told my son. “But taking something that isn’t yours is wrong. It’s stealing. You have to give it back.”
Tears formed in Chase’s eyes. “Please, Mommy, can’t I keep it?”
“No, Chase,” I said firmly, wondering if I was being too hard on my son. “You must take it back tomorrow. And you must tell your teacher that you are sorry that you took it without permission.”
The next day, Chase took the bean back to school. His teacher later told me that he solemnly presented it with the confession: “I’m sorry I stolded this bean.”
When Chase returned home that afternoon, he seemed back to his old self. “Did you give the bean back?” I asked.
“Then I have a surprise for you.” I pulled out a package of bean seeds and watched his eyes grow wide.
“Can we plant them now?” he begged.
As we planted the beans in our window garden, I felt as though I was participating in a sacrament. Every time a bean went into the dirt, I thought of the times I had cut corners or justified wrongs in the spirit of getting ahead. I wanted people to envy me, too. I wanted to be the best, the brightest, among my friends. Sometimes it was easy for me to think, It was just a slight exaggeration. But each bean reminded me of the enormous price I pay whenever my desire for approval overwhelms my commitment to obedience.
Chase’s act of contrition humbled me, too. As our bean plants grow in the window, they remind me that even the smallest wrong draws us away from God…while a tiny step back toward what’s right brings healing and a new closeness to Him.
Beginning in kindergarten (if not before), our children learn many lessons in the classroom—how to spell, to count, to write. But the most important instruction has nothing to do with books and paper. Rather, it is the lessons our kids absorb in everyday experiences that reinforce the principles of Scripture.
As parents, we must be discerning in the instruction we give and the wisdom we seek to impart, always being aware of the awesome responsibility before us. We need look no further for inspiration than Christ, who said, “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am” (John 13:13).
With Jesus as our example, we’ll talk more this week about how to teach our children godly lessons as we prepare them to walk in step with Him.
- James C Dobson
“Chase and the Beanstalk” by Dale Hanson Bourke. From Everyday Miracles by Dale Hanson Bourke (Nashville, Tenn.: Word Publishing, 1989). Used by permission of the author.