So I am about six days into my new call in my new congregation in a new state. This happens to be Vacation Bible School Week. A local church camp is in charge for the week, with some of our adults and youth in support. All I have to do is show up, get to know some people, sing some songs and learn a few actions. Sweet.
I headed over to the family life center the other day, in search of the worship time. I was a little early, and was called upon to shuffle cards for a small group of little girls who were spending their down time playing Candyland. I am a little rusty at Candyland, but I shuffled the cards for them so that they could get their game started.
There was a dispute over rules at one point, and everyone seemed confused about where they should be on the board, so I suggested that we start over. Fresh starts are one of my things. One of the little girls asked if I wanted to play, and offered that I could go first. We started to set up the game pieces but another of the girls started to cry because it turned out that she was going to be last. Another girl fussed that "she never got to be first."
"I'll tell you what," I said. "I'll be last." The little girl who never got to be first could go first, and the other girl who was worried about being last -- she could be second. Everyone was happy.
One of the girls looked at me and said, "You are really nice. You are a really kind person."
I thought that it wasn't really so. It's just that being first or last was not that important to me in this particular instance. But I remembered what it felt like to be passed over, to feel like I never won anything, to always be last.
We had only played a few minutes when one of the counselors told us we had to pack everything up -- it was time for the next activity. No one was happy about this, especially the little girl who was always last. Again, she had not won. She started to cry.
"You're a sore loser," said another girl, which made the girl who always lost cry even harder. "That's not nice to say," I told her. As if to justify herself, she said, "Sore loser just means that you don't like to lose." "Yes, but it's still not nice to say." The other little girl cried harder.
Later on, we were all singing silly songs together. I remember catching the eye of the little girl who called her friend a "sore loser". She looked back at me sort of tentatively, as if she thought I didn't like her any more, because of what she had said.
I smiled back at her. I wanted her to know that I still liked her. I hope she believed me.
I just wanted to tell her, "You are not perfect, but I love you."
We learn so many lessons and so early. We learn to call each other names, and we learn to be ashamed. We learn to try to justify ourselves. We learn to be cruel and we learn that we are losers.
We learn so many lessons and so early. I want one of them to be this: "You are not perfect, but you are a child of God. I love you."
And, there is nothing wrong with being last. Sometimes it is the best place to be.