This is a story …
… about me
… and a five-year-old named Kaden.
Kaden comes to our Sparks Club. Wait. I’ll restate that. “Comes” is too soft a word. Kaden explodes into our Sparks Club each Wednesday night. As he pounds up the steps to the second floor Sparks room, he is already pushing, shoving, and yelling at his friends.
During Large Group Lesson he wiggles and giggles, entertaining any kid who dares look at him. During Small Group, he is disinterested and more concerned about kicking the foot of the girl who is sitting next to him than he is any verses. During Game Time, he wants to take every turn.
The leader who drives the van from the apartment complex where he lives, usually is the one working with him, but one rainy, noisy, chaotic night, too many kids need one-on-one attention and he ends up sitting next to me.
He kicks the empty chair on the other side of him. I ask him to stop and I move the chair. He makes faces at the kids sitting in the next row. I turn his chair so he can’t see them. Next on the agenda – he pretends to choke himself and he thinks that’s hilariously funny.
At this point, I reach over, take his hand and hold it. Firmly, but gently. I expect him to pull away, but he doesn’t. He suddenly looks up front and realizes that someone is giving a lesson in an appealing, kid-friendly way. For a few minutes he actually listens.
We sing about being Sparks for Jesus and lighting the world, but even as we stand, I don’t let go.
We sit again and he whispers, “Why are you holding my hand?”
I am close, so close, so very close to saying, “Because, as usual, you’re being your squirmy self, disobeying the leaders, not listening to the lesson and you’re pretending to choke yourself distracting everyone around you.”
But then I stop.
This small boy whose reaction to parents’ night is “My mom would never come.”
This small boy who obviously does not know how to behave appropriately.
This small boy who would do anything for attention.
This small boy whom the Lord loves.
I look at him and I smile and I say none of those things that I want to say.
“Because,” I whisper instead, “you are my friend.”
He gives me a funny look. He doesn’t say anything, but his grip on my hand grows tighter.
And he begins to listen – his small hand still resting in mine.
Later that night, he recites a verse. The first one he has said all year.
The next week he asks if he can sit by me again.
I have been in children’s ministry for more than three decades. I have written thousands upon thousands of words about kids and leaders of those kids.
But even I am surprised at Kaden’s response to my simple statement “Because you are my friend.”
The story does not stop there. For the rest of the year I have no problem getting Kaden to sit quietly during the lesson, to willingly work on his book, and to obey.
Now I know telling a child that he’s your friend will not always work. (I’ve worked with a LOT of kids.) Many kids would throw that declaration right back in your face.
Yet, I think about that night …
… how close I came to reciting a list of Kaden’s failures.
… how close I came to moving him away from the group.
… how close I came to giving up connecting with him.
And I wonder how many opportunities I have missed to show God’s grace to a hurting child.
Gracious words are like a honeycomb, sweetness to the soul and health to the body. (Proverbs 16:24)
Words are free. Words can break down walls. Words can turn a little boy’s heart and make him receptive not only to me, but to the gospel message we teach him week after week. Turning a rebuke into a positive connection can break down a wall.
I learned a lesson that night.
My prayer is I won’t forget it.
And that is the story about me … and a five-year-old named Kaden.