The Broken Cookie Theorem

For where your treasure is, there also will your heart be.  -Matthew 6:21

For many years, I was my daughter's Girl Scout leader. Our troop started as a giant pack of unruly, adorable little Brownie Girl Scouts. A few years later, a smaller number of the girls matriculated awkwardly into Junior Scouts. A still smaller number braved the middle school adventure of Cadette scouting. I was with them through it all, from cookie sales and crafts to camping trips and rock climbing. Though the Girl Scout organization is hardly without controversy, our little troop chugged along independently enough, and I was glad for the opportunity to get to know my daughter's classmates.

When the girls were in fifth grade, we had one particular meeting that inspired what my family has now designated The Broken Cookie Theorem.

The meeting began like any other, with the girls all squirrelly from a long day at school. We made it through the Pledge of Allegiance and various announcements, and then the snacks arrived. Of course the girls were hungry, as children tend to be after school. But their reaction to the plate of cookies before them was out of the ordinary: these girls became an atavistic gang of hunters. They began pushing each other to get to the cookies. Almost, but not quite, their eyes rolled back in their sockets and their teeth sharpened into fangs. These little girls I had known for years, sporting jaunty little sashes plastered with badges of good will, were transformed into maniacal predators.

One or two girls, stragglers who had been pushed aside during the ambush, approached the tray after the dust had settled to find random cookie pieces scattered here and there, casualties of the adolescent onslaught. They looked at me helplessly and gathered up the remnants.

We postponed the meeting's agenda for a bit to discuss manners. We were able to establish that all of these girls were fed on a daily basis, and that there was no nutritional emergency to accommodate. There were apologies and smiles, and the meeting went on.

I have never been able to put that image out of my mind, though: the mad rushing to be first, the sticky grabbing of the choicest cookies. The scene I had witnessed might make more sense in a Cormac McCarthy novel; it was haunting and heartbreaking to see comfortable young women so rapacious.

That evening at home, our family discussed what I had encountered with the scouts. We considered a number of points:
  • It's important to work enthusiastically toward goals.
  • If eating the best food available is our goal, then shoving and grabbing might be necessary.
  • If getting to heaven is our goal, then shoving and grabbing are never appropriate.
  • If getting to heaven is our goal, then cookies are a nice treat, but essentially irrelevant.
  • In heaven, we will be wholly fulfilled in a way we will never experience on earth.
  • If someone is kind enough to offer a treat--or even a meal we actually need to sustain us--we may accept gratefully as long as we keep our ultimate goal in mind. Is this treat helping me get to heaven? Then accept. Is this treat an obstacle for me right now? Then decline.
Our discussion led to the development of The Broken Cookie Theorem: whenever a good thing is offered, if we can accept it, our family members will always (strive to) be happy to choose the least of the offering. We will happily be last in line. We will cheerfully be the one who has to be told that the food has run out. We will gratefully accept the broken cookie, the ugly cookie, the burnt cookie. We will try, at least.

For every broken cookie we embrace now, the Lord promises a feast of eternally perfect cookies in paradise. As we read in Matthew 19:29-30, "And everyone who has given up houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands [or cookies!] for the sake of my name will receive a hundred times more, and will inherit eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first." Amen.