Nick, Jonathan and Diane Kramer’s eldest child, was a happy, energetic kid who’d usually come running or skipping out of school. But one fall day, when Nick was six years old, his dad was parked at the curb when Nick was walking slowly towards the car, his curly head hung low, his mouth turned down, a bunch of papers in his hand. Nick seemed to drag himself along the side-walk. He slowly pulled open the car door and slumped into the seat.
“Hi, Nick. How are you doing?” his dad asked. No response.
“What’s going on? Did something bad happen today?”
Nick slowly nodded yes before turning his face away.
“Oh, come on, Nick. Tell your old dad what’s wrong.”
“I’m bad,” Nick said at last.
“Bad? Why do you say that?”
Nick handed over a crumpled piece of paper. Smoothing it out it revealed rows of math problems. A big red “-3” dominated the top.
“Look,” Nick said, tears running down his cheeks, his lips quivering in an attempt at self-control. He pointed at the glaring red mark. “Look, dad, I got a bad grade.”
After considering for a long moment, his dad said, “That minus three doesn’t mean you’re bad or that you got a bad grade, Nick. It means you missed just three problems on this whole paper. Your teacher wants you to learn from your mistakes. But that’s not all that counts. How many did you get right?”
Nick had no idea so his dad started counting up the correct one’s that weren’t marked, pointing at each one as I went. By the tenth correct one, Nick had joined in the counting, and by the time we’d gotten to 27, Nick’s tear stained cheeks were showing signs of happiness. His dad had him write a big black “+27” next to the red “-3.”
“There. Twenty-seven right.” Nick absorbed the truth for a moment before his usual bright smile reinstated itself on his little-boy-face. The subject was changed and the day went on.
That story encapsulates a fundamental lesson in faith. Far more than a set of beliefs, faith consists of developing a different perspective on life by learning to see God’s presence and activity in our midst. When we make that shift, we become like those considered simpletons in the presence of the allegedly wise or disciples of itinerant rabbi and miracle worker who discover to their amazement that they are able to bring healing just like Jesus did.
I long ago gave up pretending to be able to explain the mystery of the Eucharist, the power of the Holy Spirit in the conversation of two people who are fully present to one another, and so forth. Instead, I invest my efforts in learning to see as Jesus did, that is, in learning to see God’s presence and activity in our midst. Amen