Last week my daughter came home from school with a big conundrum.
Following a very dramatic "Mom, I have got to ask you about something!", she launched into her meandering, storytelling process which at the end of the story always leaves you both more enlightened and more confused than you were in the beginning. After a few clarifying questions, my husband and I came to the understanding that a girl in her class did not do her homework and then cheated by forging her parents handwriting in order to not get in trouble with the teacher. Caroline caught her in this lie, and her big question was whether or not to tell the teacher. She didn't want her friend to be mad at her, but she also didn't want her to get away with cheating.
I asked Caroline what her goal was, what she wanted to happen in the end. After thinking about it a bit, she told us she wanted her friend to stop lying. I was proud of her, but I could also tell as we rounded back and forth in the conversation that part of her did want her friend to get in trouble.
Caroline had done what was right. She had completed and turned in her homework. Her friend had done what was wrong, and my daughter, like most of us, wanted justice.
Justice is a tricky thing. We see wrong. We judge it to be wrong and so we cry out for justice. And if we don't cry out, we seethe inwardly, longing for justice. We want someone to make it right, especially when we have no power to make it right ourselves. The cry for justice can eat away at us. When justice is not served up on that silver platter, we groan inwardly, we seethe, we complain, we grow bitter, and eventually we grow hate.
It is so hard to see the other side of the injustice we feel. I asked my daughter if she knew why her friend had not done her homework. "I have no idea." And why would she be know? Why would she be curious about the why behind her friend's lie?
Caroline has a daily routine. To her auntie's after school for playtime, homework and piano practice. Whatever is not completed there gets finished at home. For the most part we live out of that stable pattern. But what I know that Caroline does not is that not everyone goes home to the same pattern. What I know is that if a third grader is not getting her homework done it is likely because her parents didn't check in with her or they work late or there was a family emergency or something is not quite as it should be at home. What I knew as Caroline tried hard to want to help her friend but struggled to not be caught in the judgement trap is that likely her friend needed compassion and encouragement. She needed love. She needed a reminder to do her best and to make good choices.
We all need those. I realized it this week when I started to bad mouth a coworker and then glanced down at the sticky note on my computer asking me with haughty tones "Is it true? Is it kind? Is it necessary?" I popped my hand over my mouth mid sentence and looked across at my thankfully kindhearted and understanding office-mate.
It's hard to act justly. It's hard to be just. And it's hard to judge wisely.
In the end, the decision was up to Caroline, but we encouraged her to think about talking to her friend first. It was the hard thing to do, but often the hard thing from a caring friend makes more of an impression than justice. Mercy and grace make lasting imprints. We may not recognize it at the time. It may not seem like it makes much of an impact, but somewhere down the line it will. Justice has its place, but sometimes, most of the time, it's not ours to place.