Posted by Bonita Jewel
On the way home from Wednesday evening church, my eight-year-old son told me a girl had called him “nerd” and “idiot.” My first reaction was indignation. I wanted to make a snide remark about the pot calling the kettle black, maybe add something about haughty daughters of fashionistas. Clearly, I was not on the right track, even after an evening discussing temptation and how to avoid it. Hearing that my son was called names opened a dark pathway in my mind and I fell straight into it.
My daughter stopped that mental spiral with a logical comment to her brother: “You can’t be both nerd and idiot.” Jessica’s observation made me laugh. She was right. Nerd has two main definitions:
- a foolish or contemptible person who lacks social skills or is boringly studious.
- a single-minded expert in a particular technical field.
In all honesty, both descriptions can fit my son. He loves to read all manner of science books. He is not discriminating. One day he might be studying volcanoes in a book he got from his aunt for Christmas. The next day he will be poring through a book about the human body or marine life. When we leave the house, he always carries a book into the van. And usually leaves them in the van.
Not only does he love to read on those topics; he loves to share what he learns. He is not discriminating (or highly discerning) as far as who he shares it with. He’ll start talking to some random individual on the school playground, or during free time after church, about something he learned. As his mother, I see what that might develop into one day. He could be a professor or at least a teacher. He has an amazing memory, is a fast reader, and loves books that many people would leave on their bookshelf.
At the same time, he probably tends to bore people. I watched it one day, at school, when he was talking to a close friend about some scientific topic. He was conducting a monologue and I had to suggest, “Buddy, why don’t you give your friend a chance to talk, while you listen for a while? Then you can have a turn to talk afterward.” That kind of social skill comes naturally to most people; not to my son.
Yesterday evening, my son had been talking with another boy about sharks. The girl, a couple years older than my son, made a sarcastic comment about how “exciting” the topic of his (most likely one-way) conversation was, and called him nerd. Then idiot. He told me that he went to tell his teacher, and she suggested letting it roll off, like water off a duck’s back. I agreed wholeheartedly. My son and I discussed the way duck’s feathers are coated with a special oil that keeps them from staying wet even when they dive underwater.
My son seemed fine after that, but made a comment this morning to his sister about having been called names, and I didn’t want to leave it. So I sat down with my three kids in the living room, and gave them each a small white board and marker.
“Draw a line dividing the white board in half,” I told them. “On one side, write names that you like to be called. On the other, write names that you don’t like being called.” Within a few minutes, they all had at least a couple of names on each side of the board. They first read out the names they did not like being called, and then the names they do like being called.
I gave them some references to look up in their Bibles. John 1:12. John 15:1, 5. John 15:15. Romans 8:17. 1 Corinthians 6:19. After they took turns reading the verses, they shared some of the names we are called in the Bible:
- Heirs with Christ
- Children of God
- Branches of the Vine
- Temple of the Holy Ghost
- Friends of Jesus
I asked them if they had anything to add to that list. My older son said, “Beloved.” I mentioned sheep. I digressed from biblical application and told them about some of the names I had been called as a child. “Four-eyes.” “Bird legs.” A couple that were more offensive, but made my children laugh. I laughed along with them, though I hadn’t when I was a kid.
I told them one reason we don’t allow name-calling in our home is because names are important. They help us know who we are. They shape us in many ways. We tend to live up, or down, to the names we are called. I asked my children to remember, if anyone calls them names, there are other titles they have: names that God has called them that are so much more important. I also asked them to think that, if someone calls them a name, it is probably because those kids have been called names, maybe by schoolmates, maybe by members of their own family. And try to respond graciously, even when the names are hurtful or on their “names I don’t like to be called” list.
Who knows if the little discussion I had with my kids will be like water off a duck’s back? I hope not. I hope my children remember their true names, their more enduring titles. That they see those same names in others, even “the least of these.” I hope I remember it too.