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Finding Your Place in the Story

Many years ago I worked at a summer camp for a church in Atlanta. As a part of my job, I was in charge of daily chapel services for our campers. Somewhere along the way, I decided to let the campers lead these services every Thursday. Each week I chose a different camper group to lead and assigned them a parable. The second graders were in charge of chapel the week of the parable of the Prodigal Son. I was there as they first read the parable and as they discussed their options for presenting this story to the other campers. Ultimately, they decided to act out the story in skit form and they began making real plans.

As their counselor began asking the kids who wanted which part there were kids clamoring to be the father, the younger brother and the older brother. There were kids who wanted to be the father’s hired servants. As we predicted, there were girls convinced that there must be a mom involved somewhere and that was who they wanted to be. Then there was Clark. With his hand waving in the air and a huge smile on his face, he asked to be the one part of the story that none of us had even thought about. Clark wanted to be the fatted calf. Clark’s friends honored his place in the story and that Thursday afternoon Clark was ushered into the gym by the hired servants as the fatted calf and the gathered family celebrated the return of the younger son.

Every time I think of this story I smile. I think about the kid who thought outside of the box and found his unique place in the story. The truth is we all have our own place in the story. Sometimes we are the older brother and we are hesitant to offer compassion that doesn’t feel deserved. We are jealous and want to know why someone else has a seat at the table that somehow feels better than our own. Sometimes we are the father, displaying compassion and opening our hearts to those who need it whether they feel they deserve it or not. Certainly, there are also times when we feel a little more like the younger brother, not quite sure whether we are invited to the table or not. Whether we feel like the seat at the table is undeserved because of our own actions or we doubt the capacity of others to offer the compassion that we seek – we wonder if there is a place at the table for us. The truth is, at God’s table, all are welcome. There is a seat at the table for each of us, wherever and however we find ourselves in the story.

As our children begin practicing the act of compassion, I encourage you to put your compassion into action too. As you go through this week, I encourage you to think about who you know that might need the gift of compassion. Who is it that finds themselves in the place of the younger brother, seeking compassion and an invitation to the table of grace? Can you offer them compassion through an invitation, a letter, a phone call, or a socially distanced visit? Maybe you are the one who is looking for a place at the table. Can you offer yourself compassion and unashamedly claim your seat at the table, knowing that you are a child of God? Have a seat in the best chair in your home and rest in the compassionate arms of God. Cry if you need to. Write yourself an invitation to God’s table of grace. Throw away whatever it is that has been holding you back from claiming your seat and know that you are loved. Perhaps you can put your compassion into action by advocating for a group of people who often feel like there is no place for them. Offer compassion by supporting an organization that seeks to restore wholeness, relationships, or dignity to those who feel like they have lost it. Just like we all have our own unique place in the story, we all have our own unique way of showing and sharing compassion. Find your way and put your compassion into action.

April Alston
Associate Minister of Children/Preschool