This is the true story of soldiers in training for God’s army of peace.
Our two youngest children, Gleny, age nine, and Jason, age six, frequently get into squabbles as I think many siblings do (I am an only child, so I am not entirely sure), and from time to time the name-calling or annoying gestures will escalate, someone will throw a punch, and then comes the crying, accusations, and furrowed brows.
In these three months since the children moved in with us, we have often – almost obsessively – talked about peace. We talk over and over, crouched down, eye-to-eye with each child, about the Prince of Peace and His desire for them to grow up to be men and women of compassion, peace, and love. We read bible verses about peace, we ourselves try to permit Christ’s perfect peace to pervade our lives as examples for them, and we talk frequently of alternatives to violence – using our words to express our emotions, leaving a situation if we are angry, or, of course, putting on the big pair of red Everlast punching gloves and heading straight to the punching bag on the porch to exhaust our negative energy on the bag rather than on our brother or sister’s head.
Their behavior, relational problem-solving, and communication skills have improved drastically in these last few weeks, but the other day I was in Darwin’s and my bedroom organizing some paperwork when I heard a thump and then a shrill cry come from the adjacent room.
I immediately entered the scene with the mentality of a shrewd detective. Jason sat on the floor with crocodile-sized tears in his eyes after what looked to have been a rather dangerous bump against our living room’s bookshelf. I looked at Gleny, thinking the whole incident had been an accident and that she would serve as my witness – that he was jumping on the couch and then clumsily fell against the bookshelf, or something along those lines – but after asking her very sincerely what had taken place, the look in her eyes betrayed that she, in fact, was the culprit. I then asked very inquisitively, with my eyebrows and voice doubtlessly raised, “Gleny, did you do this to Jason?” She quickly admitted to the misdemeanor, and I praised her heavily for having told the truth and then had a long talk with the both of them about all of the abovementioned topics regarding peace, respect, using our words rather than our fists to express ourselves, etc.
A couple days later a similar episode occurred, and I came onto the scene with a general knowledge that what had happened was most likely intentional. Rather than nervously asking who started the fight or trying to comfort or punish them, I asked rather exaggeratedly, almost playfully, eyes wide open and looking around the room, gesturing with my long, gangly arms, “And where are the punching gloves?” They both quickly forgot whatever squabble they were having and very eagerly ran over to the designated spot on our living room side table’s bottom shelf, and began to bring me the gloves, thinking that I myself needed them and that they were being quite helpful in finding them for me. As they began running to bring me the gloves I interrupted them and said rather dramatically, “Uh-huh? And why are they over there and not on your fists and being hit against the punching bag?” They both stopped mid-stride and began looking at the floor, hopefully being flooded with memories of the many times Darwin and I had walked them through demonstrations of how to put on the gloves, how to hit the bag, the reason for having the bag, etc. Thus I discussed, once again, the importance of being people of peace.
A few days later there was another unpeaceful occurrence, so I consulted Darwin to see what an adequate punishment would be for our two peacemakers-in-training. He immediately responded, “Exercise.”
“Excellent,” I agreed, and headed to the living room to declare Dad’s verdict.
“Onto the porch. The two of you. Now.” They quickly shuffled out onto our large porch, barefoot and in their play clothes. “Push-up position.” Without delay they put their skinny bodies into the required position, side-by-side. “We’re going up to thirty, ten at a time with ten-second breaks in between each set. Each time I count you will do one pushup and yell – and I mean yell – I WILL LIVE IN PEACE.” They looked up at me, eyes eager to please, their arms already quivering a bit from having maintained their push-up position during my initial lecture. “If either of your knees touch the ground we will start over. One!”
In unison two voices declared, “I will live in peace!”
“No. I know you can yell better than that. One!”
Louder this time, they declared, “I will live in peace!”
“Good! Jason – bend your elbows more. Excellence is our goal. Two!”
“I will live in peace!”
As I paced in front of them, their cries for peace resonating into the mountains behind our property and doubtlessly into the homes of our closest neighbors, I almost began laughing, thinking Our neighbors probably think we run some kind of military bootcamp for peacemakers.
They completed the required thirty push-ups, and we were able to maintain peace for the rest of the day.
A couple days later, Darwin and I were resting in our room while the three siblings played on our house’s porch, which is right outside our bedroom window. We heard a couple shouts, and then our eldest daughter said, “Push-up position, you two.” There were a few more muffled sounds and then we heard Jason’s nasaly voice proclaim at the top of his lungs for our whole village of El Pino to hear, “I want to live in peace!” Darwin and I looked at each other, with joy in our hearts, and tried not to let the children hear our laughter.