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Heart Matters: Chance Encounter With Jesus

Children's church was a game of chance -- literally. Every week it was the same question: What mood would 4-year-old Chance be in today? I found myself growing more tense every week as I waited for the blue-eyed boy who could charm my socks off -- or rock my world in a bad way. This child -- who was one of the congregation's favorites -- could turn mad-dog vicious in my classroom in an instant.

This Sunday, I watched him come through the door and I knew. His extraordinary blue eyes shone bright with an emotion I could never identify, and his fists were already clenched. We were in for a rocky ride.

I braced myself and started teaching the lesson, trying to avoid igniting Chance along the way. After failing numerous times to pull the class into his dark mood, he beat on the table with both fists, chanting, "This is stupid! This is all stupid!"

"Chance!"

"You're stupid, too!" he yelled. "And God is stupid!"

That was it! I couldn't let him talk that way in front of the other children. As I approached, he spun out of control, overturning his chair and pushing the table, trying to knock it over. The whole time he screamed, "I hate God! I hate Jesus, too!"

I managed to pick him up, taking sharp blows to my shins from his heels and violent jabs to my midriff from his flailing elbows. He'd gone too far this time. I was taking him to his mother.

Despite instructions to return misbehaving kids to their parents, I usually avoided doing that in Chance's case. His mom was a single parent and new Christian, and I wanted her to be able to remain in the service. But it hadn't taken long for Chance to break down my resolve.

In the hallway, I realized I couldn't carry a whirling, shrieking dervish into the sanctuary mid-sermon. So I ducked into an empty classroom. I'd have to calm him down first.

We fought our way to a chair in the corner and I battled to sit down with him.
Disturbed by Chance's extreme behavior, my heart raced; I couldn't imagine what propelled his behavior.

"Oh, Jesus," I said, as I lowered Chance to my lap. The whispered words were more an expression of my bewilderment than a prayer.

Instantly, Chance's body relaxed. His head fell against my chest and he cried.
"My daddy won't come see me," he said. "He's not a Christian."

I could feel his small body trembling. His arms slid up and around my neck as if grasping for his life.

There was so much pain in that little boy -- I could feel it with my hands as I held and rocked him. I had, at last, the missing piece of the puzzle. The fire in his eyes was grief. Once I understood, I hurt with him -- even more so when I realized how long he'd carried his pain alone.

We sat together until his sobs turned to heavy sighs.

"Chance?" I asked. "Do you want me to pray with you?"

He looked at me and nodded. In those amazing eyes I saw another light, but this time I knew its source. It was hope.

We prayed together for his daddy. We prayed that his daddy's heart would turn back to Chance and to Jesus. Chance felt lighter as I lifted him from my lap. We walked hand in hand back to the classroom, where Chance was his charming self for the rest of the morning.

I'd like to report that I never had another bad day with Chance. That's not the case. However, I got a priceless education that day about so-called "problem" kids. I also learned the value of getting out of the way when the mere mention of Jesus' name is enough to do the trick. cm

Marcia Gruver is a children's church director in Huffman, Texas.

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