Cherry Pits and Piggy Banks
He loved Pepsi, pancakes, cookies, and apple pie.
He disliked naps, peas, and bedtime. Most definitely, he did not like church. In fact, he told us with a four-year-old’s directness that he hated church. He would say so every Saturday night and again on Sunday morning.
“Why does it take so long? How long will it take ’til it’s over?”
Though he enjoyed Sunday School, he dreaded the hour following when he had to “sit still for so long.” During the worship service, he could do a great job of feigning a stomach ache so he would be allowed to lie on the floor. Within minutes, he’d be rolling and kicking, trying to lift the benches with his feet or doing anything else he could to pass the time.
In addition to hating church, he disliked praying.
“I get tired of praying,” he’d say at mealtimes and family devotions. “Why do we have to pray all the time?”
He resisted our teaching efforts with the same enthusiasm he showed in climbing trees eighteen feet off the ground and popping wheelies on his bicycle. One of his greatest thrills in life had always been to see “how close he could get to the fire without getting burned”. As his mother, I sometimes wondered just what kind of delinquent we were raising.
I remember the day he was barely three when he asked, “Mama, would it make you sad if I went to hell?”
“Yes, Timmy,” I answered, my heart skipping ten beats. “It would make me very, very sad.”
“But I want to go to hell!” he wailed.
“Why?” I gasped.
“Because I want to see Goliath burn,” he answered.
So I have worried. I have prayed. I have asked God to protect my son’s wiry body from danger and to help him learn right from wrong. I have prayed for his soul. Oh, how I have prayed!
Then there are days when I think I should pray more for my soul than for his.
Consider a Saturday afternoon one summer. I was sitting on the lawn pitting the gallon of cherries Timmy and his papa had picked. Friends of ours were fishing in the lake 100 yards away.
When Cindy and Kurt returned with freshly caught bass, Timmy ran to their side and swished the fish around in the bucket with his bare hands. I went to find a container with a cover to hold their catch.
When I returned, I found Cindy holding a bag filled with what was probably two quarts of cherries. I noticed that they had been taken from the “already pitted” pile, and I remembered seeing Timmy dash into the house to get a plastic bag while I was hunting for a bucket.
“Mama, I gave Cindy some of our cherries,” he said. “Is that all right?”
“Sure,” I answered, wondering why he couldn’t have given her the ones I hadn’t pitted.
After Cindy and Kurt left, I sat down to finish my sticky task. I felt tired and grumpy as I thought of all the Saturday jobs still unfinished, and tried to keep the baby from devouring more seeds than cherries.
“Mama,” Timmy said, slipping down on the blanket beside me. “Wasn’t that nice of me to give Cindy those cherries?”
“Yes, Timmy, that was very nice of you,” I answered, feeling the stone in my heart soften a little.
He crawled onto my lap and took my face in both of his cherry-stained, fish-smelling hands. “And wasn’t it nice of me to give her the ones that were already pitted?”
“Yes, Timmy,” I answered, hugging him. “I hope you’ll always want to share with people.”
That Piggy Bank
A few weeks later he threatened to skip out of summer Bible School. “I won’t go unless I can be in Benji’s class,” he said, stomping his foot. “And anyway, how long will I have to sit still?”
I assured him that Bible School wasn’t like church and that he would have a great time there.
He went and learned about homeless children. Every day the money he put in the offering went to help the homeless children “right here in this city.”
Friday morning dawned clear and hot. It was the last day of Bible School, and a program was planned for 11:00 AM. Timmy and his siblings were excited about the picnic that was to follow the program. They were oblivious to the fact that a week from now we would be moving to another community two and a half hours away.
I had been packing all week while the children were in Bible School. I could feel the deadline crowding in on me and I was trying to make each visit to town count.
The night before, I had carefully made plans. I would drop the children off at Bible School by 9:00, go to the bank to close our accounts, pick up some items to replace at the house we were leaving, and be at the children’s bookstore before 10:30 for the story time I had been giving. It was to be my last morning and there would hardly be time to say goodbye to all the children before I would need to be back at the church for the program.
It was 8:30 AM, and I had two minutes to get everyone out the door and buckled into car seats, but Timmy wasn’t in a hurry.
“I want to take the money from my piggy bank to put in the offering,” he said, rattling the container insistently as I tried to usher him out the door.
I wanted to remind him that we had already given them extra money for the offering since it was the last day of Bible School. I wanted to tell him I didn’t have time to take the money out of the bank. The bank had a weird screw in its bottom, and the easiest way to get the money out was to shake it out, coin by coin.
I wanted to tell him he should have thought about the bank the night before and that his small amount of money wouldn’t make a difference anyway, but I didn’t, because I remembered the widow’s mite and those cherry seeds.
“Let’s take it along to Bible School, and you can get your teacher to help you get the money out,” I said.
I had to smile to myself as I thought, Won’t Karen thank me for this!
I found out later that Karen couldn’t get the coins out either. It was Bryant, the fifth-grade teacher, who took the time during recess to remove the screw from the bottom and help Timmy get his money.
“I want to keep the gold and give the silver,” Timmy said, grabbing the pennies, which he called gold. He took the silver to Vernon, the pastor, who was serving as Bible School superintendent.
“I want to help the children that don’t have any food in this city,” Timmy told him.
I was a few minutes late to the Bible School program, but I got there in time to hear the pastor’s announcement about the total offering from the week. I heard him talk about the little boy who brought his piggy bank to help the hungry children.
“I have to confess that I had to open my wallet and give again,” his voice choked.
He didn’t name the child, but I knew it was my little guy. I shuddered to think I had almost stifled his generous spirit.
Praying – and training
That is why, when I pray for Timmy’s soul, I have to pray for my own as well. Over and over, I’ve needed to ask God to help me give all the silver that I have in my piggy banks, and to give the cherries without the seeds. A little child has led me.
My now almost-teenager, who is known as Tim, is not a perfect child. It’s no small wonder, for his parents don’t possess perfect genes themselves. He delights and frustrates us, sometimes all within the same hour, yet I’ve been stretched as we’ve attempted to allow him to develop his own bent.
As I watch him now, I remember the day his Grandma Slabach watched him toddle recklessly across the lawn. “That little Timmy is one different fellow, isn’t he?” she pondered.
“Yes, Mom,” I answered. “Sometimes I don’t know what to do with him.”
“Just let him be himself, dear; just let him be himself,” she responded.
Sage advice, I’ve found. I’ve tried to follow that advice, as well as advice over 2000 years old. There is instruction in Proverbs which says that if I train up a child according to his bent, he will not turn from that training when he is old (Proverbs 22:6).
Our task at hand is to shape his bent by teaching and training. Our son is like a kite: meant to soar freely and high. Yet the challenge for us as kite-flyers has been a paradox: holding that string loosely while keeping it taut.
Sometimes we fail, and sometimes we succeed. Yet when I’m faced with the challenges, I cannot forget the lessons I have learned from those cherry seeds and that piggy bank.
This story was first published in the column Glimmers from Gert’s Gazebo in 2000. Later it was reprinted in Southside Glimmers (2003). For more information on how to obtain this book, click here.
I’d love to hear about the lessons God taught you through everyday happenings.