Imagine if you found a genie’s lamp and could have three wishes. What would they be? Fame? Fortune? Good health?
I asked this question to a group of middle school students at an urban arts camp I was leading this summer. I was teaching a drama workshop, and so far we had covered how to use the actor’s body and voice to bring a character to life. On this day, we were talking about motivation — discovering what a character wants.
“Everybody wants something,” I said. “What would you wish for?”
We sat in a circle on the cold, concrete floor of the inner-city church and each of them shifted uncomfortably, no one wanting to go first.
I called on one boy, who didn’t talk much.
“Nothing,” he said. “I don’t want anything.”
“Nothing?” I said. “You’ve got three wishes, dude. You don’t want anything?”
He shook his head.
A girl’s hand shot up on the other side of the circle.
“I know all three,” she said. “Wish No. 1 — to be the best softball player ever. Wish No. 2 — to be the best volleyball player ever. Wish No. 3 — I wish for three more wishes.”
She smiled as if she were the first to think of the extra wishes angle.
“Very good,” I said. “Anyone else?”
A few others chimed in with their wishes, and then, just as I was about to move on, the quiet boy, who had said he didn’t want anything, blurted out, “I wish that my father would stay out of my life.”
The pain in his voice stabbed us, silencing the group. None of us had seen that coming. I don’t know what circumstances led up to that moment, but I can tell you he meant it.
I felt horrible for this kid, his dad, his mom and whatever had happened to get him to this place in life. I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it since. I keep thinking how I would feel if my girls’ greatest wish was for me to stay out of their lives.
I guess the reason this bothers me so much is that I know deep down it’s not supposed to be this way. We’re all wired for relationships. We all long to connect to other people, especially family. Yet, we live in a world where families aren’t what they’re supposed to be.
Instead of protecting and nurturing their children, parents act like children. Instead of giving grace to our brothers and sisters, we judge them more harshly than we would a stranger. Instead of being a safe haven, families can become a source of confusion and pain.
I wish I could I point the finger to other families, “broken” families, “dysfunctional” families, but, honestly, what families aren’t dysfunctional and broken in some way? Even the best of families are less than perfect because they are full of broken and dysfunctional people like you and me.
Yet, there is a God who longs to heal our brokenness, restore our dysfunction and help us to get over ourselves enough so that we can put others first. He is a God who can give us the courage to forgive hurts and seek forgiveness when we’ve blown it ourselves. He is, in other words, the hope all families need.
A genie in a bottle? Hardly. A creator of perfect families? Only in heaven. A mender of wrecked relationships? Absolutely. For my money, I’ll take that over three wishes all day long.