Author’s Note: One of my absolute favorite things is when my daughters ask me to tell them a story. Driving home at night from somewhere—it’s dark outside, without much traffic, and quiet. Or around the campfire. Or at night before bed. Or (as this morning) on the way to school to make the steep hill we’re walking feel not so daunting. I usually don’t have a story in mind. I just launch into it and see where it goes.
Lately I’ve been writing my girls stories too. Many of the stories explore the theme of what it means to love your neighbor. I think of them as “neighborhood parables.” The story below, which I’ve also used in a children’s sermon, is one example. (It is inspired by this story, the author of which is unknown.) I include some of my discussion questions from my children’s sermon below too.
Hope you enjoy!
Once upon a time there were two brothers who were the best of friends. Born just a couple years apart, they grew up doing everything together, side by side.
Side by side, they explored the hills and the streams and the woods that surrounded their parents’ farm.
Side by side, they ate breakfast in the morning.
Side by side, they brushed their teeth before bed at night.
They played sports, did their homework, helped with chores, played pranks on their parents—and they did it all side by side.
The neighbors said, “Those two boys are joined at the hip.” That was the neighbors’ way of saying that the brothers couldn’t be separated.
And the neighbors were right.
After high school, the brothers decided they wanted to be farmers like their parents. They saved up their money and they bought two farms, and those farms were—you guessed it—side by side.
The farms were in a beautiful valley. They had lots of grass where the horses and cows could graze. And it had rich, healthy soil where good crops could grow. There was even a pretty little creek that ran between the two farms.
For years the brothers farmed next to each other. They helped each other. They shared tools and machines. They shared some of the food that they grew.
Many nights during the summer and early fall, after a hard day’s work, the two brothers would meet at the creek to talk and swim and fish and watch the sun set over the valley. They did this side by side too.
And the neighbors said, “Those two brothers are thick as hair on a dog.” Which was another way of saying that the brothers couldn’t be separated.
But this time the neighbors were wrong.
The brothers got into a quarrel. It was their first serious fight ever.
It started out as a little misunderstanding, but it grew into a big argument.
The older brother was certain that the whole thing was the younger brother’s fault.
The younger brother was just as certain that the whole thing was the older brother’s fault.
They started yelling, and they said hurtful things to each other.
Then they stopped talking altogether.
The longer the silence, the angrier both brothers got. They stopped helping each other. They stopped sharing tools. They didn’t go near the creek where they used to meet to talk and fish.
Days went by. Then weeks. And it seemed like the two brothers who had always been the best of friends would never be friends again.
Then one morning, when the younger brother was finishing his breakfast and grumbling crossly to himself, there was a knock on his door.
When he opened it he found a man carrying a toolbox. The man said, “I am a carpenter. I’m in the area for a few days, and I’m looking for work. Do you have any small jobs I can help you with?”
The younger brother had a flash of inspiration.
“As a matter of fact, I do,” he said.
He pointed across the creek. “Do you see that farm? That farm belongs to my older brother. We’re quarreling and it’s all his fault and I’m furious at him. I want you to use the pile of lumber by my barn to build a fence along the creek. I want it to be eight-feet high. No twenty-feet high! I don’t want to see his property—or his face—ever again!”
The carpenter thought for a moment. Then the carpenter said, “I think I understand the situation. I’ll be able to do a job that pleases you.”
The younger brother had to go into town for the whole day. But before he left he helped the carpenter get the materials ready. Down to the side of the creek they hauled lumber, nails and screws, and tools of all kinds. The younger brother took one last look at his brother’s farm, then left to run his errands.
As the younger brother’s car disappeared from sight, the carpenter got busy. He worked hard. As he measured, sawed, and nailed, he thought a lot about the two brothers. The day was hot, but the carpenter was skilled and he did a fine job.
Just as the sun was setting over the valley, the carpenter finished his project. He was loading his tools into the truck when the younger brother returned home.
The younger brother was eager to see the fence he had asked for. But when he got out of his car, his jaw dropped. He couldn’t believe his eyes.
There was no fence there at all.
Instead, there was a bridge.
It was a simple bridge but it was sturdy and, he had to admit, lovely to look at. It stretched from one side of the creek to the other.
But the bridge wasn’t even what surprised him most. What surprised him most was the sight of his older brother coming across the bridge, his arms outstretched. The older brother said, “What a wonderful brother you are to build this bridge! Thank you!”
The brothers met in the middle of the bridge. First, they shook hands awkwardly. Then they got down to business and hugged each other and apologized to one another for all the hurtful things they had said and done.
When the brothers turned to thank the carpenter, they saw he was hoisting his last toolbox into the back of his truck.
“No, wait!” said the younger brother. “Stay a few more days. I have a lot of other projects for you.”
The carpenter smiled and wiped his brow with a handkerchief. “I’d love to stay on,” he said, “but I have to go. I have many more bridges to build.”
As the brothers watched the carpenter drive away, they promised that the next time they had an argument they would meet in the middle of that bridge and work it out. They would stand there and work it out—side by side.
Did you know that the job Jesus grew up learning to do was to be a carpenter?
When Jesus was on earth he said and did a lot of pretty amazing things.
In a way, Jesus said, “I am the Bridge. I’m here to show you that God doesn’t want to be separated anymore. God loves you. God is coming toward you right now, with hands outstretched.”
In a way, Jesus also said, “I am the Carpenter. I don’t want people to be separated from each other anymore. I don’t want people to stay angry at each other for days and weeks at a time. I want you to forgive each other. I want you to love each other.”
In a way, Jesus also said, “I want you to be carpenters too.”
People who follow Jesus want to be more like Jesus, right? I think that part of what it means to be a follower of Jesus is to learn how to be a carpenter like Jesus was. I don’t mean that we all need to learn how to build houses and remodel kitchens and make cabinets. (Although it’s pretty cool if you can do those things.) What I mean is that we can help build bridges that will allow people who are mad at each other to meet and talk to each other and work things out side by side.
Have you ever gotten so angry at someone that you didn’t want to be around them?
When that happens, what are some ways that you can build a bridge so that you can be side by side again?
- Ask for forgiveness
- Talk about your feelings
- Take a deep breath