It was just another play date. Another argument between two little boys. Another temper tantrum. Except it wasn’t.
John wanted the blue racecar. So did Owen.
The Fosters had only lived in their home for a few months and Jill was eager to invite one of the neighborhood boys over to play with her 4-year-old son, John. It was Owen’s first visit. After Owen’s mom dropped him off and headed to the store, the two boys settled in to play a board game.
When Jill heard the boys arguing, she insisted that John share with his guest. “John lost it. He had a level 10 meltdown,” Jill says, “thrashing and kicking and screaming.” Owen wanted to go home and, as John continued his fit, Owen started to cry. Jill tried to console the boys. She tried to fix things … but she couldn’t. “I didn’t want my neighbor to come get him in this state, I was so embarrassed.” Jill felt like a failure as she called Owen’s mother.
Owen’s mother arrived and, as they stood at the door, Jill took her son aside and quietly spoke to him. She didn’t want to miss this opportunity to share the gospel with him, and with her neighbor. “The way you’re acting is sad, and it’s a sin. This is why Jesus is so great, because He forgives us.” She was met with a blank stare. After four years of reading Bible stories, singing praise and worship songs, and praying with her child, she wasn’t seeing any fruit. John’s heart seemed cold to the gospel.
Jill knew Owen’s mother wasn’t a believer, and her words about sin and Jesus probably seemed foreign to her. When Jill asked Owen if he would be able to forgive John, she got another blank stare. Nothing seemed to be working, and Jill felt the burden of failure as a parent and as a Christian witness rest heavy on her shoulders.
Over the next few days, nothing changed. John remained uninterested in talking about what happened. Sunday morning, while Jill and her husband got their family ready for church, the KIDS volunteers prepared their classroom at The Austin Stone Community Church.
It was just another Sunday morning. Another class of 4-year-olds. Another lesson to teach. Except it wasn’t.
The KIDS volunteers helped their 4-year-olds write kind letters to their neighbors as they talked about loving others as Christ loves. When Jill picked her son up that morning after church, he showed her the letter he’d written to his friend.
Owen, I love you. I want to play Rescue Bots, all of them, with you. I want you to watch TV with me. And to play with crayons with me. I want to play games with you. I want to color pictures with you. I want to jump on the bed with you. John.
“I was floored,” Jill says. “I was so thankful, praising God as I realized he was doing things I couldn’t. He’s in control; I’m not. I can try and produce this fruit in John, but ultimately, it’s not my work. It’s not meant to be mine.”
This gift of a tender heart was God’s work. Jill had only tended the soil and, as long as she continued to do so, she was not a failure. She was faithful. God had known all along that John would throw a tantrum and that Sunday morning he would hear about being a good neighbor. God used an ordinary Sunday morning and ordinary volunteers to coax fruit from John’s heart.
God wasn’t done. When Jill gave the note to Owen’s mom, she explained how John had written it at church because they were talking about loving their neighbors, like Jesus loved His neighbors. A few minutes after she got home, Jill got a text from Owen’s mom, saying how sweet the note was and how grateful she was that Owen and John were friends.
The relationship had been restored. God was at work, and He still is as Jill tends the soil of that friendship. Jill shared the gospel the day of the tantrum, and now she waits on God to bring the fruit of faith in her neighbor. Day to day, she looks for opportunities to demonstrate and declare Christ’s love.
Looking back, Jill is reminded of a parable in Mark 4:26-28, “This is what the kingdom of God is like. A man scatters seed on the ground. Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how. All by itself the soil produces grain.”
“I’ve learned to be faithful to sow the seeds and teach John,” Jill says. “I’m faithful to give him the gospel when there’s an opportunity and then just go to sleep––meaning, there’s nothing you can do after that. It’s you resting, and letting God work.”