I have an education degree. While I’ve never taught as a full time teacher in a school system, I used to sub when my son was in elementary school. Regardless of my degree, the best of what I know to be true about interacting with kids was taught to me by my mother. One of these things is: Kids will believe what you tell them about themselves. If you tell a child they are a failure or a problem or stupid (either by your words or your treatment of them), they will believe it. Conversely, if you tell a child they are smart, helpful, and needed they will believe that as well. I’ve seen children literally increase in height, their entire demeanor change, from something as simple as one positive or encouraging statement.
I think of this often when I see how adults treat one another these days. I wonder what they heard as children, how they were treated by their family, peers, teachers. The ironic thing is that some of them were treated well, popular, showered with praise, and yet the lack of hardship failed to give them needed opportunities to learn compassion. I always say that one of the most difficult things as a parent is watching your child learn to be an empathetic and compassionate human being because the road to understanding and caring about the pain of another begins with feeling that pain yourself.
One day, nearly two decades ago, I was substituting second grade. The teacher had left me a note of what to expect from her class with some tips she felt I needed. Directions were general except for one section that warned me about a specific child, a boy, who was disruptive and apparently, at such a young age, already had a reputation throughout the school. I was told that I could just sit him off to the side or send him to the principal should a problem arise.
While I wasn’t in any way the Bible reader I am today, I still had a close relationship with the Father and by this point in my life I had already begun praying that He let me see people as He sees them, feeling His love and hope for them. This young boy walked in defeated and my mother’s heart immediately attached to him. Some might criticize what I’m going to tell you next but I am going to be open and honest here, I decided to experiment with that kid that day.
As soon as I called roll, I pulled him out and asked him to join me at the board. I announced that He was going to be my helper that day because I had heard great things about him. His face went from fear at being called up to shock at my compliment to understandable distrust. Still, I persisted. Throughout the day, rather than writing names on the board when someone acted up (this was a lively class, y’all), I played a game called “Caught ya being good” and wrote their name on the board for that instead. My little helper did the honor for me each time. I made it a point, of course, to have everyone’s name on the board with multiple checkmarks for their positive “infractions” by the end of the day. I even let them “snitch” on one another, provided they raised their hand first and paid a sincere compliment to their classmate, choosing different ones each time (until the whole class had been publicly commended by their fellow students).
Their reward? Well, when I was asked about that I realized that I had not actually thought this out as this plan had developed on the fly after I arrived. So what did I do? If anyone guessed that my fallback would be food, you’d be right? But not actually food itself, which is even more stunning. Now, I wasn’t blogging at this point (shout out to those of you who found me from my former life!) but I sure was baking and developing recipes, having graduated a couple of years earlier with my degree in home economics. And so, when asked what their reward was, I began describing a dessert I had made for my husband the previous week. It was a trifle and I described each ingredient, each step of preparation, and then each layer as it was assembled. I used my best story teller skills and had those kids leaning in, oohing and ahhing at each step as I built to the finale of describing the flavor and texture of that first bite. (Hey, I’m a good storyteller). And I ended my story with, “If every one of you gets your name on the board today, WITH checkmarks, I’ll bring each of you a copy of the recipe tomorrow.
Yup, I bribed an entire class of second graders, not with food, but just the promise of a recipe. In reality, though, they wouldn’t have cared if I hadn’t of given them anything, that was just part of the game we were all playing that day, me pretending I had something invaluable to give them in a printed recipe and them pretending they wanted that recipe more than they wanted the joy and affirmation of being seen, valued, appreciated while helping to bring the same about for their peers.
I saw that little boy become a different person over the course of the day and to be honest, this whole thing was a psychological experiment because I was about 90% sure it would work- but I had not tried something like this before. In hindsight, that day taught me lessons that I still use today in much of the work I do and the interactions I have.
And that day I learned that the Father had assigned me to the building team, rather than the demolition crew.
Now, please understand that this is in no way a criticism of their regular teacher. It was easy for me to come in for the day, a fresh horse, and dazzle the kids when I did not have be the one finding solutions and figuring out how to manage a room of of assorted learning styles and challenges while navigating this along with any problems stemming from their home life or any issues with their parents. As a substitute teacher, I was kinda like the grandparent who can spoil them and hand them back to their parents.
A few weeks later I was in the grocery store and I heard an excited voice exclaim, “Mrs Jordan!”. I turned around to see my little helper looking at me hesitantly from across the aisle. I held out my arms to him and he burst into a huge grin and rushed to give me a hug. I spent a few minutes telling him how good it was to see him and while doing this a woman (his grandmother as it turns out) came over, looking a bit perplexed. I looked up at her and immediately began praising her grandson, telling her what a help he had been and how much I had enjoyed getting to be his teacher for a day, how polite he was, and how bright he was in school.
Bless her, she did not hide her confusion. As a mother of a child who has been known to be <ahem> let us say strong willed, I did not in any way judge her for this. I know that the exhaustion, the effort, and the berating of self that comes from the long days, months, and years of dealing with our little future leaders can certainly wear one down. And so I gently, in a way that told her more than it did him, explained how the day had gone when I taught her grandson, making sure she heard what I wasn’t saying. She blinked a few times, nodded, and looked down at him in pride and back at me with a slow nod of comprehension. Now remember, I wasn’t the kid whisperer by any stretch of the imagination, I was just a fresh horse. You know how your kids can drive you crazy but that amazing babysitter can keep them for two hours once a year and they think she’s the best thing since fruity pebbles? That was me here. No Anne Sullivan to the Helen Keller or anything, more like the clown who came to the party and had the foresight to learn how to make balloon animals.
Anyway, I think of that a lot. No, I don’t know that kid’s name (it was many years ago) but I pray for him often and I thank the Father for what He taught me that day.
Often, people live up to your expectations of them, and so those expectations can elevate or lower their standard of behavior. Sometimes, we have to be stubborn in our positive expectations of people and on those occasions in which that doesn’t change them, it can still change us, causing us to treat them in a manner in line with the fruits of the spirit rather than those of our flesh. (Note that what I am discussion today has nothing to do with abusive or toxic situations, just daily interactions between fellow humans who need grace just as much as we do.)
The world is getting darker. People are scared.
The world is getting darker. People are scared and I see more and more Believers falling prey to having their fears stoked and fed as we grow closer to the return of our Messiah. This is a time in which our focus should be on Him and so it is understandable that we are being bombarded with every distraction imaginable to waylay us from that.
We have to remember the times that we’ve been beaten down. Remember the times that, despite your hopes and best intentions, you disappointed people. Remember the times, if you’ve ever had them (I have), where you decided that it was just easier not to try to make them proud of you, to just be what they decided you were. Remember the times that, on your way to being what you so desperately wanted to be, your own feet tripped you up and, rather than see any of your triumphs, the only witnesses were those who saw your fall.
As a believer, we must soften your heart to the fact that everyone around you is doing the best they can in this moment and in most circumstances we have a choice to either kick down or give a hand up
Now, soften your heart to the fact that everyone around you is doing the best they can in this moment and in most circumstances we have a choice to either kick down or give a hand up. We must realize that the world teaches us to kick down but Yeshua (Jesus) teaches us to give a hand up.
It’s not easy being a human these days, but when you follow the Father you have a light and love within you that comes directly from Him. Just as one might say I have mother’s hair color, we should be just as easily recognized by “She/He has their Father’s heart.”
Step out from the crowd today. Obey the voice of the Shepherd. Recognize that He left the 99 to find you and, if we love as He loves us, if we share just a fraction of that grace that we ourselves have been given, we might help others to remember what His voice sounds like, too.
That they, too, may be found.