Thursday. The fourth grade classroom. You are headed in for your weekly time to help. You walk up and see a boy sitting alone outside in the hall where his desk has been moved. He has a really straggly mullet haircut, his jeans are too short, and he is slouched down. He’s obviously already pushed the teacher far enough to be removed from the class. You are tempted to think, “Phew, I don’t have to deal with him in my reading group today.”
Last week, he was late to your group. He was disruptive from the moment he sat down. He messed with the kid beside him, continually distracting everyone. When it was finally his turn to read, he read surprisingly well. His reading was clear and confident, until suddenly he seemed to lose interest. He began to mumble, and then switched to a funny voice all together. You gave him 2 warnings and then had to move on to the next reader, as he went back to banging his feet against the leg of the table.
He’s on your child’s soccer team. The parents constantly rumble about him. He is overly aggressive and can’t seem to really control his body. He too often escalates to tears, which is frustrating, or anger, which honestly is concerning. Someone has to always have an eye on him. In practice or on the sidelines, he is pushing kids and distracting the team or sulking by himself. You watch him walk up and pretend to give your child a high five, and then kick him in the shin guard instead. Your child has already told you he hates when he does this.
He is awkward and never knows what to say. He is so moody. He is so much work. It is so tempting to wish he wasn’t in your child’s classroom, that you didn’t coach the soccer team, that you didn’t have to put in the time and patience it takes to just be around him.
But you know. You know his story. You know his Mom, whom you’ve never met, had 3 kids before him whom she lost to the state. You know that he was taken from her, for his safety, when he was just born. You don’t know her and realize your heart would probably break for her story too, but every day you see the impact of it on him. His Grandma has told you how he never sees her, and how he cries himself to sleep almost every night missing her. You watch as about twice a year he smiles all day, his face glowing, because she has promised to pick him up from school. And that she has always called and canceled right before school is out. You’ve seen his face as his grandma walks in to tell him the news. Disappointed once again.
You know. You know that earlier this year, she had another baby, whom she was able to keep. He doesn’t understand. Why can the new baby be with his Mom? Why does she want the baby and not him? And you know that in reading group, he was reading along with a strong voice until he came to the part talking about a Mom making a snack for her son. When he started reading that part, he couldn’t do it, and to hide his tears he started being disruptive and changed the subject back to his behavior yet again. That’s easier than the pain.
You know his Dad, who struggles with agoraphobia & PTSD, has such a fear of life and people and the world, that he doesn’t often leave his house. His Dad often gets triggered when he is out in public, and has outbursts that are scary and embarrassing for his son. The boy knows his Dad loves him, but can’t handle him. When he is with his Dad, he walks on eggshells.
He has been raised by his Grandma, who loves him and does her best, but is tired. She already raised her children, and has to work full time, and has health problems that limit her ability to move and erode her patience.
And again, you know the result of this. You know he is heartbroken. You know he is also hard work. He is disruptive, and socially awkward. He doesn’t pay attention, he seems to want to get in trouble, and he is rarely approachable. You are tempted to avoid him, to be relieved when you don’t have to interact. To sigh in frustration when he is being difficult, and to be relieved when it’s time to leave him.
But you’ve known him since he started kindergarten with your child. You’ve seen glimpses, few and far between, of his heart. His tenderness used to leak through before he learned to cover it so well. His sad tears used to fall before he learned to change the subject. He used to try, before the patterns and the self-defenses started kicking in, taking over automatically.
What will happen to him? It’s hard to say. The road he has started down is a tough one. And what can you do? You aren’t around him enough to have a major impact on his behavior. You know your direct influence on him is only here and there.
But you believe love looks like something.
So you’ve prayed for him. You’ve asked God what He is doing, how you can partner with Him to love this child. You can’t “save him” and know you are limited. But God! God asks you to love the one in front of you, to see the other. And that is him. So what does that look like, you wonder?
And God has shown you. He told you to pay attention. And He showed you the gold He has put in even this child. You’ve seen, after someone walks away, the sulky defensive look lift off his face and sometimes he smiles. You’ve caught him daydreaming, and asked him what he thinks about. You’ve listened to his response. You have decided to relate to him at his potential, not his behavior, and you’ve seen him rise up to the challenge. You’ve noticed him, smiled at him, made sure to say hello to him by name. And it breaks your heart that these small, little acts of love have made a difference. You see the sponge of his heart soak them up, not always trusting them, but desperate to receive any drop. Desperate to believe he can be seen, he is valuable, that he is worthy of love. You’ve seen love at work. And it’s broken your heart and humbled you.
And God is so good. He’s also shown you how others are doing the same. God loves this child, and has surrounded him by people who are willing to see the other, to not disregard even this child. God has shown you that this child is not your responsibility, he is God’s, and that you get to trust that. But also you’ve seen the proof that love looks like something! And when we stop to see the other, the one in front of us, and we are willing to play a part in God’s love, that it matters!
Thank you, God, for giving us eyes to see the other. Let us live a life that sees the ones right in front of us. Thank You for this child. And for so many like him in the world. They are desperate for love. And love looks like something. Thank You that as we listen to you and are willing to say yes, that we can participate in love that makes a difference. Give us your heart for the one in front of us. Thank You.
“Ministry, however, is simply loving the person in front of you. It’s about stopping for the one and being the very fragrance of Jesus to a lost and dying world.” –Heidi Baker
“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.”
About the Author
Pam is a fun and encouraging team-builder that brings the best to those around her. She loves young people and is committed to serving and mentoring kids with opportunities to grow closer to God and each other. She joined our staff team in 2012 and oversees the ministry of ages from birth to eighth grade. Pam and her husband, Jared, have been married since 2005 and have three boys.