I wrote about R.J. Palacio’s first novel this past summer. One of you recommended Wonder, and I read it on my vacation. The novel made me want to apply for a job as a middle school English teacher, just so I could discuss this book with seventh and eighth graders. (That sentence alone should cause all of you to rush to the book store or movie theatre this week!)
This is not a Christian book or movie, yet I think every Christian could read and learn from it. This book is about the power of love, compassionate choices and looking past the exterior of a person to see their soul. My favorite review of the book is from New York Times reporter, Maria Russo. She wrote:
Whatever you’re thinking, it’s probably worse,” he says of his face as the book begins. He’s used to the stares and mean comments, but he’s still terrified to learn that his parents have gotten him into middle school at Beecher Prep and want him to go there rather than be home-schooled. But they persuade him to give it a try – and by the time this rich and memorable first novel by R.J. Palacio is over, it’s not just Auggie but everyone around him who has changed.
The book was inspired from a brief encounter the author experienced. R.J. Palacio had taken her children to the ice cream store. They sat down at a table next to a child with severe facial deformities and her three-year old began to cry in fear. Palacio said she handled the situation by grabbing her kids and rushing them out the door. She thought she was protecting the little girl with the deformities but later, after thinking about it, realized she had probably added to her hurt instead. She was angry with herself, wishing she had simply begun a conversation with the family. She could have used that time to teach an important lesson to her kids but instead taught them something she wished she had not. That experience stayed with her and eventually the book, Wonder, was the result.
The theme of the book is centered around a person’s choice to be kind. One of my favorite quotes from the book says: “If every person in this room made it a rule that wherever you are, whenever you can, you will try to act a little kinder than is necessary – the world really would be a better place. And if you do this, if you act just a little kinder than is necessary, someone else, somewhere, someday, may recognize in you, in every single one of you, the face of God.”
Kindness is a choice the children learn to make because of their experience with Auggie, the main character of the book. I’ve not seen the movie yet, but I hope it does the book justice. All of us should consider the need to be “kinder than necessary.”
As we enter the holiday season, wouldn’t that be a perfect goal? We know we need to be kind, but what if we choose to be kinder than necessary? This week I am teaching Colossians, chapter 3. Verse 12 reads, “Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.” This verse describes what God’s people should look like to the rest of the world.
R.J. Palacio wrote an amazing book and I am looking forward to seeing the movie. But, my sadness in reading this book came when I realized that a secular novel might have more impact on the culture this Christmas than God’s word. The weakness in Wonder is that kindness is limited to a person’s ability to be kind. The Bible teaches that kindness is a fruit of the Holy Spirit. In other words, a Christian is capable of offering the unlimited kindness and compassion of Christ.
Jesus is our source of “kinder than necessary.” The world will appreciate our kindness, but the compassion of Christ will have a much greater impact. As “God’s chosen people” let’s clothe ourselves with the kindness of Christ. In other words, we are to wear Jesus on the outside as well as the inside. Chances are, all of us will have the opportunity to express that choice today.