I’ve just had two little grandsons staying, aged 5 and 3. The other day I told them a story about two naughty boys who got out of bed in the middle of the night and went to the cliffs to climb down … but a mummy seagull was there, sitting on her nest looking after her chicks, and she told them off and sent them back home. I used the initials of my grandsons’ names for these boys. They didn’t like the story much – thought it was scarey – and I dismissed it from my mind.
As the sun came out that morning, we decided to go on a lovely muddy woodland walk with them. And Three Year Old Bunting, who wears his heart on his sleeve, got cross about something and started shouting NO and generally working himself up into a bad mood which we knew from experience could last for hours.
So I said, in an astonished tone, ‘Mummy, you’ve made a mistake!’
‘Oh dear,’ she said, playing along with me, ‘what have I done?’
‘You’ve left Bunting behind, and brought Buh!’ (the name I’d given to the disobedient boy in the story).
Three-year-old Bunting looked at me, gave me a knowing grin and settled down. And I found that worked all day: When ‘Buh’ turned up and ‘Bunting’ disappeared, I simply enquired as to why we had brought Buh, and where had Bunting gone?
As we went on a walk together, Bunting and I talked about Buh. At one point he said ‘Buh is my brother.’
(I regaled my daughter with this who said vigorously ‘please no. Two boys are quite enough … I can’t put up with a third, especially one like Buh!’)
I was astonished that Bunting had made this connection, all on his own, and it made me think. He was recognising that this difficult side of him belonged to him in a close relationship, and lived with him like a member of his family.
Isn’t this true of all of us? I pondered. That there are sides to our personalities which are not positive or helpful, even to ourselves? And in a way we are lumbered with them – they are like an inner ‘family’, they are part of the package deal, they are part of our identity.
And yet, if we are prepared to recognise them and to own them, that is half the battle. We don’t have to be ruled by the negative side of ourselves. We don’t have to be its victim. We can choose, if we are willing, the amount of influence that our negative side has on us.
In Christian terms, God recognises us exactly for who we are. He knows all sides of our nature, and still loves us, even when we are not loveable to anyone, least of all ourselves. Within this love I discover the incentive, the power, to be willing to change, to clean up my act, to be more open to his kindness and love which constantly flows towards us.
I guess the question always is, how willing are we?