The Half Cookie Story

The other day a friend and I were having a conversation about some pretty deep issues, and it brought up a memory from my middle school days.

When I was in 8th grade, I would eat lunch in the cafeteria with the same kid every day. The weird thing is, I'm not sure why we started eating lunch together. I don't think we had any classes together. He just kind of showed up in the cafeteria one day and sat by me.

I would bring my lunch (peanut butter & jelly!), and on most days I would also buy a 35-cent, freshly baked chocolate chip cookie for dessert. It was a good-sized cookie and would come wrapped in plastic.

One day this kid (I don't even remember his name, but I can still picture him) asked if he could have a piece of my cookie. No big deal. I broke off a small piece of my cookie and gave it to him. 

The next day he asked me again. And the next day after that. This went on for several days, and I really didn't mind parting ways with a small piece of my delicious cookie.

Then one fateful day, he asked me if he could break off a piece of the cookie. I thought, Well, maybe he wants to help me out. He sees that it's a bit of a struggle for me. So I said okay. He then proceeded to break the cookie clean in half and ask, "Which piece do you want?" How kind of him to defer to me!

I was shocked, but I'm the type of person who doesn't like conflict. So I chose the piece that looked slightly bigger and tried to go on with my day.

But now my lunchtime friend had set a precedent. A new cookie ritual was established. Every day he would break my cookie in half, and we would "share" it. (If my parents are reading this right now, they are probably ready to hire a P.I. to track this now-grown-up-kid down.)

As the weeks went by, I grew angry, resentful, and bitter at this kid. Eating half my cookie was eating at me! But I didn't say anything... Until I reached a breaking point.

One day, he asked me if he could have a piece of my cookie as usual. I said yes, but this time I quickly snatched up the cookie so I could break it myself.

"I can do it," he said.

"NO!" I said. "I'll do it! You're not getting half my cookie!"

As I type these words, I am laughing out loud at the Seinfield-like humor of it all. (Or maybe it's more Breaking Bad???) But reflecting back, I keep thinking about one thing.

I was not obligated to give this kid half my cookie. I did it to keep the peace. I did it out of an unhealthy place.

But what if I did it out of a place of self-sacrificial love instead? What if it was truly my choice to make? 

This story bubbled up because my friend and I were discussing unhealthy patterns in our lives. Sometimes the need for approval can cause us to live a life of fear where we stuff our emotions and don't say how we're feeling.

It's interesting how the same actions done from a different perspective can completely change the narrative.

What if I looked at that kid and said, "You know, I don't know what the deal is with this guy and why he shamelessly asks for half my cookie... But if giving up half my cookie is what love requires of me, then I'll do it." 

(Because let's be honest—every day after school, another snack was waiting for me at home... I could afford to be generous.)

I don't expect an eighth-grader to have that level of emotional maturity. (Though some do.) But what can I learn from that experience now?

Resentfully allowing someone to take half a cookie from you is unhealthy.

Generously giving away half a cookie is choosing to love self-sacrificially.

Sometimes it's hard to know which place you are operating out of.

But it's worth thinking about.

- Michael