By Bill Harley
Most Monday afternoons, Jean and I have a virtues class for our three grandchildren Sofia (7), Daniel (6) and Kira (3). The other day was like most Mondays—we learned about a virtue (in this case, kindness), read a story about kindness; and then the kids used arts and crafts to creatively express the virtue of kindness.
At this point, as usual, the kids’ attention spans were exhausted and they played for a couple of hours. Kira played with dolls and the miniature kitchen while Daniel and Sofia got out their tablets and sat together at the dining room table playing the computer game called Minecraft, which seems to be the current rage for children. All I can tell you about this game is that players can create detailed and imaginative “houses” or living spaces with structures, landscaping and creatures; and the possibilities in this virtual reality are endless. My attention span for Minecraft is exhausted quickly; the kids’ attention span for it seems unlimited.
Sofia and Daniel were showing each other the “houses” each had laboriously built over the last week and then extending and expanding upon their construction efforts while maintaining a continuous dialogue together. Since everyone seemed fully engaged, I tiptoed into my home office in the adjoining room to get some work done.
Then suddenly, I could hear that there was upset at the Minecraft table. Sofia had somehow lost the “house” structure she had been building for the last week and couldn’t seem to get it back even with Daniel’s considerable help. After much work and some tears, there didn’t seem to be any solution. Sofia’s week of work had evaporated and she was crushed.
Sofia had tears in her eyes and a crestfallen expression on her face as she climbed up into my lap. She said, “Grandpa, what can I do? I worked so hard on that house and I was so proud of what I had created.” I sensed how she felt and didn’t know quite what to say. But then I had a memory-pop that cleared my head.
I said, “I’m so sorry you lost your house, but you know, Sofia, I had something just like this happen to me when I was in college. I had just finished writing a 10-page paper which was due the next day. I needed to do well on this paper to finish up my degree in English and American Literature so I had worked very hard on it—just like you did on your house. I was living with a bunch of other guys in a rooming house, had left my type-written paper (there were no computers in those days) on the desk in my room and went out to get some dinner.”
“When I returned an hour later, my paper was gone. I looked everywhere for it, asked everyone if they had seen it, and no one knew anything about it. It was a disaster—just like you losing your house that you had worked so hard on. I was really tired and wanted to go to bed, but realized that I had to rewrite the paper from memory during the night so that I could turn it in at my class the next day when it was due. Because there were no computers in those days, there was no record of the paper except the memory in my head.”
“So I drank a few cups of coffee and started rewriting the paper. I worked on it the whole night and remembered some of the paper; but a funny thing happened. As I worked along, I thought of many new ideas that were better than the ideas in my first paper. I realized that I had learned a lot by doing the first paper and now I was finding deeper understanding, meaning and creativity in writing the second paper. By the time the sun came up the next morning, I was nearly finished retyping the second paper and felt exhausted. My class was the first hour of the day. I got there a little late, running most of the way and out of breath. The professor was already lecturing the class. I walked to the front of the room, placed my paper on the lectern table, left the classroom and went back to my room collapsing into my bed.”
“The next week when I went to class, the professor returned all of the student papers. When I received mine, the grade at the top was A+. It was the highest grade I had ever received! Plus, the professor said that it was a truly excellent paper, exceptionally well-written, and that he wanted my permission to add it to a small collection of essays in the university library that students could look at to see examples of excellent papers. Of course, I said ‘Yes!’ As I walked to my next class, I thought to myself, maybe I can be a writer!”
When I looked at Sofia after this long story, I could see that she was thinking intently. I said, “So what do you think, Sofia? When my first paper disappeared, was it disaster or a blessing?” She thought for a minute and then said, “It was both, Grandpa!” I said, “You are so right, Sofia. A lot of things in life are like that. Something happens that looks very bad, but in the end it turns out to be really good because it made us struggle to do better and be better. It appears you have lost your house in Minecraft and that looks very bad; but maybe you need to struggle to rebuild your house and, with all that you learned by building the last house that disappeared, the next house will be much more creative, beautiful and interesting than the last one because you have grown in capacity. You may end up saying to yourself, maybe I can be an architect!”
With that, Sofia smiled at me, slid down off my lap, went back to her tablet, and opened Minecraft again. As I watched her working away at her new house, I said to myself, “Gosh, this 7-year old has already learned something very important about the spiritual, social and intellectual growth patterns that an all-loving Creator has designed into life—growth patterns Jean and I didn’t figure out until we were adults!” Jean and I describe these patterns in our book, Now That I’m Here, What Should I Be Doing? (Discover Life’s Purpose).