When I was eighteen or so, I use to teach swimming lessons to kids.
One of the worst kids I ever taught was a ten year old boy named Daniel. Daniel was a jerk. He interrupted me, he would splash, dunk, and hit other kids, he hardly listened to any instruction I gave him. One day Daniel was being exceptionally terrible. To handle Daniel, I put him on time out. While he was in time out, he started yelling and throwing things at us. I didn’t know what to do, so I just started yelling at him. My yelling stopped Daniel in his tracks. He completely froze. I remember wanting Daniel to feel terrible. I wanted him to stop acting like a jerk and start listening to me.
I still think about Daniel, and how small I must have made him feel. He was a kid, so he probably doesn’t remember some dumb teenager that kind of taught him how to swim. But I can’t help but wonder… does he remember me? If he does remember me, I wonder what he thinks. Does he remember how small I made him feel? Does he remember that I yelled at him when I didn’t have to? I don’t know why Daniel acted like a jerk, but I am guessing he had something going on in his life and he was just trying to find some way to let it out.
I have always regretted yelling at Daniel. I regret yelling at him not because he didn’t deserve it. I regret it because I remember wanting him to feel small. Ugh – what a crappy thing to do to another human being. Why do we want other people to feel small? Does it really add anything of value to our lives?
I recently had a ‘Daniel’ while teaching Kid’s Journey (our churches Sunday school). I had a kid that wouldn’t listen, was hitting another kid (his brother), and was just being difficult. If you have ever babysat, had a sibling, are a parent, or have taught a kid – you know it is frustrating to be around a kid that is having a hard time paying attention.
The thing is, I have changed. I am not eighteen years old, I’ve been doing this a little bit longer, and I have now encountered dozens of Daniels.
There was a part of me that wanted to yell at this kid. However, the part of me that wants other people to feel small – has somehow departed. I don’t know where that part of me went, but I am so happy it is gone.
When the kid interrupted me, I asked him to raise his hand.
When the kid hit his brother, I stepped in between them.
When the kid was saying terrible things about his family, I asked him to say more about his feelings.
I also tried to give the kid TONS of positive affirmation. When he cut out some paper, I told him ‘Great work!’, and when he helped clean up I said, ‘Nice job! You are so great!’
I am not sure what other people would have done. Honestly, I think other people probably would have been a little bit harsher. I am guessing other people would have put him on time out, or yelled at him, or talked to his mom about his behavior.
Teaching Kid’s Journey where I teach is different from teaching at school and it is different from parenting.
There are some kids I will only meet once, and then I will never seem them again. I don’t see these kids every single day of the week, or even multiple times a week. Some kids I meet don’t know me, and sometimes I will only get to know them for sixty minutes of one day of their entire life.
In this position, I need to ask myself, ‘What do I really want these kids to know?’
I once listened to a sixty year old woman tell people about her journey as a Christian. She said that her family never had the opportunity to go to church, and so she didn’t grow up in a Christian home. However, when the woman was five years old a preacher stopped by their house and a kind man told her ‘Jesus loves you very much.’
I don’t know where Daniel is. I hope he turned out to be awesome. If I met Daniel today, I would tell him I am sorry for sucking. If I never get the chance to do that, then moving forward, I want other Daniels to know that there is something better. No one comes to Jesus through me. People can only come to Christ, through Jesus. However, I am exceptionally lucky to be in the position where I can tell kids from all different backgrounds ‘Jesus loves you very much.’
That is what I want these kids to know. I want them to know, that in a world that can be super difficult and super shitty, that there is something they can cling to.