Saturday, January 17, 2009

Charlie and the Toilet

What’s so amazing about Grace? (Ephesians 2)

Let me tell you a story.

Once upon a time there was a boy called Charlie. Charlie was one of those little boys whose behaviour was feared by all his teachers at school. Frankly, sometimes, he acted like a complete idiot. He would shout at his teachers. He would refuse to do what he was asked to do. His language was appalling. Perhaps worst of all, Charlie was a bully to his classmates.

One day, Charlie’s teacher, Mr Browning, had had enough. He had just found Charlie in the boy’s cloakroom - trying to flush another boy’s head down the toilet. Mr Browning grabbed Charlie by the ear, and frogmarched him to the Headteacher’s office.

The head-teacher, Mrs Sanderson, was a scary sort of person. Her hair was tied back in a very ferocious knot. She had a very loud voice, which could stop small children in their tracks at a hundred yards. And she wore some of those half-mooned glasses which she would look over at every child. Even Charlie, who wasn’t scared of many people - even Charlie was afraid of Mrs Sanderson.

Charlie’s teacher pulled him into Mrs Sanderson’s office. “Yes?” said Mrs Sanderson, looking over her glasses. “What’s Charlie been up to this time?”.

“I just found him in the boy’s wash-room trying to flush another boy’s head down the toilet”, said Mr Browning.

“Really?” said Mrs Sanderson. “Charlie - why were you doing that?”

“Dunno” said Charlie. “He looked at me”.

“Thank you, Mr Browning”, said Mrs Sanderson. “Leave this to me.” Browning turned and left the room. “Now, let me get this straight, Charlie,” said Mrs Sanderson. “He looked at you?”

“Yeh,” replied Charlie. And then it all came tumbling out. “He was looking at me and I said to ‘im ‘wot you fink you’re looking at?’ and he said ‘nofink’ and I said ‘liar’ and he said ‘I’m not’ and I said ‘you are!’ and then I grabbed him and got him in a headlock and I flushed his head down the bog just to teach him a lesson”.

“Right” said Mrs Sanderson, in that sarcastic tone that only headteachers really know how to use. “What do you think is going to happen now, Charlie”

“S’pose you’re going to punish me.”

“Actually,” said Mrs Sanderson, “I’m not going to punish you.”

“What?!” said Charlie - puzzled by this term of events.

“No, said Mrs Sanderson, “I’m not going to punish you - I’m going to teach you a lesson”

“That’s just another word for ‘punishment’ isn’t it?” asked Charlie.

“Sometimes,” said Mrs Sanderson. “But today, I really am going to teach you something. Today, Charlie, you are going to learn about grace”

“Grace?” said Charlie. “What - you’re going to teach me how to do that silly praying-thing before I eat my dinner?”

“No” Mrs Sanderson laughed. “No, this is another kind of grace altogether”. Then to Charlie’s surprise, Mrs Sanderson took off her half-mooned glasses, and laid them on her desk. Then, she reached up behind her head, and undid the knot in her hair, and let her hair fall softly over her shoulders.

“Charlie,” she said, her normally hard voice now sounding very soft. “Come here”

Charlie was suspicious. ‘I know what’s going to happen,’ he thought. ‘She’s just pretending to be nice so as she can catch me. If I go over there, she’ll grab me, and batter me.’ So he stayed rooted to the spot, staring at Mrs Sanderson.

“Charlie”, said Mrs Sanderson, “In all the years you have been at this school, have you ever known me to tell a lie?”

Charlie thought for a moment. “Well, no” he replied, hesitantly.

“Well then,” said Mrs Sanderson, “believe me when I say that nothing bad is going to happen if you come over here - if you let me teach you the lesson I want to teach you about grace”

Charlie was intrigued now. What was going to happen? What could Mrs Sanderson possibly teach him? Nervously, he put one foot forward.

“That’s right,” encouraged Mrs Sanderson. “Come to me”

Charlie figured that it might just be worth trying. It was better than getting battered, anyway. So gingerly he made his way across the head-teacher’s office, until he was standing right in front of her desk. He thought to himself, ‘At least the desk will protect me if she tries anything’. Mrs Sanderson smiled. It was a warm smile; a welcoming, friendly smile.

“Now come round the side of the desk, Charlie” said Mrs Sanderson. “Come round here to me.”

Charlie was mesmerised. He didn’t have a clue what was going on. But suddenly he felt drawn to do what Mrs Sanderson asked. Carefully, he made his way round the side of the desk, and stood right in front of her, just one step away...just enough room to make a break for it if he needed to.

“Do you know what I’m going to do to you, Charlie”, asked Mrs Sanderson.


“I’m going to give you a hug, Charlie”

“You’re a loony,” said Charlie.

“No, Charlie, I’m not. I’m going to give you a hug because I know that deep down inside, under all your bluster, and your violence, and your bullying there is a small boy who just needs to know that someone cares about him. Would you like a hug from someone who understands why you behave like you do...who understands that there are bits of your life that are out of your control...who understands that you behave the way you do because you can’t help it...something in you is trying to get control over some part of your life...and you use violence to try to get it.” Mrs Sanderson opened her arms, as if to receive Charlie into them.

Charlie thought about it for a moment. He didn’t really understand what Mrs Sanderson was talking about. All that stuff about trying to get control. All he knew was that he was angry all the time - and that no-one seemed to care about him. A hug? Wouldn’t be the end of the world, he supposed. Never really had a proper hug - not for a long time anyway.

Tentatively, Charlie took a final step, into the arms of this strange, enigmatic woman whom he didn’t understand at all. She was weird. One minute she looked all ferocious and fierce, and then here she was offering him a hug.

Charlie let himself go. He relaxed into the hug. He put his head on Mrs Sanderson’s chest, and he just let go.

Then the tears started. It’s funny how a sudden change of mood can make the tears flow. Charlie hadn’t cried for years. He was too tough for that. But now, here in this strange woman’s arms, Charlie’s eyes filled up, and the tears flowed like rivers down his cheeks.

Mrs Sanderson stroked Charlie’s head. “It’s alright Charlie. I understand. Let it all go. Let me take some of the pain. Because, you know what Charlie. I love you.”

Charlie’s life changed, from that day onward. Somehow, knowing that he was loved, seemed to make a difference. As the weeks and months went by, Charlie’s violent outbursts became less and less. He started to focus on his work, and started to show kindness to his classmates, instead of hatred.

Sometimes, when he knew that all his friends were busy in another part of the school, he would creep into Mrs Sanderson’s office - and they would talk about his plans, and his ideas for the future.

And occasionally, just occasionally, just so that he would know it was real, Mrs Sanderson would give Charlie a hug.

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