The boy sitting next to me

This should be easy, I thought as I prepared to enter high school. I didn’t expect to have any problems making friends or interacting with my classmates. Unfortunately, my confidence was shattered on the very first day of school, when I met the boy seated next to me in class.

Sean was about my height but twice my weight. He was careless in his studies, never studied for exams, and yelled and cursed at teachers and students alike. He bragged endlessly about the violent computer games he played, and their influence was evident in his angry, destructive behavior. I quickly started wishing I didn’t have to sit next to him.

Weeks passed, and Sean seemed to go from bad to worse. He failed nearly every exam, got into fights daily with other classmates, and made no friends. I did my best to be polite but kept my distance.

One day at lunch hour, the seat beside Sean was the last vacant one in the cafeteria. I reluctantly sat down, and we got to talking. During the short conversation that followed, I found out that Sean’s father had died when he was very young, and that his mother worked long hours on a night shift. Consequently, he was home alone most evenings and only got to spend time with her on weekends.

I was ashamed of my harsh judgmental attitudes and determined to reach out to Sean, even though that went against my natural inclinations.

At first, my attempts were only met with mocking refusals and deriding curses. I learned that Sean had been the brunt of ruthless bullying in the past, so it seemed that in order to protect himself, he had developed a very hard and unfeeling exterior. It was a struggle to include him whenever we picked teams, and it was tough trying to befriend him when my efforts were only rewarded with snide remarks. I was often tempted to get angry and wondered if he was worth my trouble.

As the months went by, however, Sean gradually grew friendlier. Then one morning, over four months after that initial conversation in the cafeteria, Sean insisted on pairing up with me for a class activity. I was shocked. “You’re always saying you never want to see me again,” I told him.

“That’s not true!” he replied, smiling broadly. “You’re my only friend—the one person who cares about me. I want us to always be friends.”

That day, I not only gained a friendship that is ongoing, but I also discovered a precious truth: Regardless of how a person acts, looks, or behaves, everyone wants and needs love and acceptance. Beneath the rocky surface of a person’s hard exterior is often a bud waiting to blossom. Kind words and loving deeds are to human hearts what sunshine is to flowers. It can take days, weeks, or sometimes even months or years for the results of our efforts to be rewarded, but one day that person will blossom.

When Jesus said to “love your neighbor,”1 He wasn’t just talking about the person living next door. He wants us to share His love with anyone who needs our attention and care, whether it’s the postman, the cleaning lady, the clerk at the counter, or the school bully sitting next to us.

  1. Matthew 22:39