When the Grinch Grows a Heart

“I will have mercy on who I want to have mercy, 
and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion.”  
Exodus 33:19Most of these kids at the after school program where I work deserve to be punished, written up, and suspended. Their behavior is often distracting (at the least) and destructive (to their peers and the facilities). And if I am good at anything, it is cracking down and enforcing rules.

But when I take time to listen to the stories of the kids, it breaks my heart. The other week, I was talking to some kids (including a brother and sister) who had been fighting with other kids, and I needed to suspend them for at least a day. But I know that there is usually more to the story than their simple behavior. I don’t always have the time or emotional energy to engage every child who misbehaves, but I try to talk with the ones that I write up.  Here’s how one conversation went that day:

Me:  “Who do you live with, besides your brothers and sister?”
Boy:  “My mom.”
Me:  “Where does your dad live?”
Boy: “Columbia.”
Me: “Do you see him much?”
Boy:  “Yeah, I see him a lot.”
Me: “Do you see him at least once per month?”
Boy: “No. Not that much.”

And this boy’s sister made fun of another boy’s mother, who had just been killed a couple of weeks earlier. That sent that motherless-boy into tears, and me, too.

So I had both this brother and sister sitting on a bench in front of me, written up, ready to be suspended from this program. It’s what their actions deserved. In fact, they were lucky that I was only writing up a one-day suspension. My anger was bubbling and was pushing me to keep them out for a week, or more.

And right in front of them, I tore up their discipline reports. Yeah, they were behaving badly, and they deserved to be gone, since they were ruining things for other kids. But, as I was reminded a few weeks earlier by this guy, just because they are bad doesn’t mean they are jerks. They might never have been taught.

And maybe, just maybe, I am growing a big soft spot in my heart.
Did I do the right thing?  Should I have overlooked their offense as I did?  Or should I have suspended them to teach them a lesson?

(Interestingly, the older brother of these siblings was suspended for multiple days early on, and now his behavior has changed markedly.  His mother told me that he hated being home that week he was suspended.)

All I know is that while we do need structure and discipline while working with these kids, I must be marked by compassion, mercy, and love.All I know is that the “normal” rules of discipline that I would apply at home, or in my previous church setting, may not apply here. For the most part I’m not dealing here with kids who are being discipled according to Gospel-oriented principles. And some of them aren’t even being taught moral principles, as a number of kids have been specifically taught to always fight back, to use profanity, and to rebel against authority. When I use my normal “lingo” that I would use with my own kids or kids of our peers, I am met with blank stares and confusion. (Recently I told a kid that she needed to obey, and she replied, “What does that mean?”)

All I know is that there is a “new Joey” in town, with a new heart. And that’s a good thing. That’s gotta’ be the gospel working in my life.

Thank You, Holy Spirit.

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**image courtesy of shawnzrossi via flickr

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  1. Expectations, Rules, and What We’re About « Mission: Allendale - October 13, 2011

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