Monday, June 2, 2008

Not My Finest Fifteen

I woke up early this morning mulling over something that had happened yesterday at church. I often have my greatest insights and promptings come in those quiet moments when the house is still quiet and I have awoken for what ever reason and lay in bed, unable to go back to sleep.
I am almost embarrased to admit that I lost my cool yesterday at church. I don't know if it was a combination of fasting, having a sore throat, stuffed up nose or what, but there were a few minutes where I was physically shaking while trying to keep myself calm. I am the primary secretary which means I don't do a whole lot during Primary except take roll and help with crowd control. A little girl came to church yesterday who doesn't come regularly. She comes from a home where there isn't a father and the mother really struggles with the 4 kids. This little girl is quite a handful so I sat with her during the singing. She fidgeted the whole time, played with her headband (which snapped across the room a few times and had to be retrieved). I often had to put my arm around her and whisper to her to help keep her from bothering other children and keep her focused on learning the new song.

Just about the time they switched from the singing to the lesson someone peeked in the window and signaled to me that they needed to talk to me. I left the little girl and went out for a min to talk to the lady in the hall. When I came back the little girl had become disruptive and her teacher was sitting with her. I sat in the back of the room and started to take the roll (My one official job on Sunday, not that there isn't a bunch of other things I do the rest of the week). The little girl started to cause more disturbance then the teacher could handle so I took the little girl out into the hall. We found an empty classroom where I thought we could have some "time out" to calm down a little and get some wiggles out. At first the girl finger drew on the chalkboard and I just watched her while standing at the door. When I asked her if she was ready to go back to Primary she started to yell at me. "I hate Primary" she yelled "It's boring". This should have been my cue to take a moment give her a hug and quietly talk about Primary and why we come to Primary but instead, this is where I messed up.

I asked her to stop yelling and calm down. She got madder at me and picked up a chair that was in the room and shoved it at me. She is only a 5 year old but she is strong. I put the chair back in its place and continued to tell her that her behavior was not acceptable. She just ran screaming through the room and pushed over a stack of seminary chairs that were in one corner of the room. The crash of those metal chairs was startling. My only thought was to calm this girl down. I physically grabbed her arms and tried to make her sit down on the floor but this only made her strike out at me and start to hit me. This is where the anger started to boil up inside of me and I had to struggle to keep my cool.

I didn't know what to do in this situation. The family doesn't come to church often and I knew if I took the girl to her mother she would just yell at the girl and take the whole family home rather then stay. The girl started to ask for her mother so in my frazzled state I decided we would go and find her. We walked down the hall and I found someone who could go in the Sunday School class to find this girls mother. The girl and I walked the hall for a few minutes, me dragging her a few times because she wouldn't follow me and would often run in the opposite direction. We paused in one place and we tried to look at some pictures hung on a bulletin board but the little girl just started to knock the pictures off and damaged the display. As I quickly tried to put things back into some sort of order she ran down to one of the lobbies and started to destroy some fresh flowers (left over from a funeral) that were placed on a table there. She knocked it over and spilled water all over the table and floor but luckily the vase hadn't broken. I put it to rights and followed the girl back down the hall where she had taken off. The person who had been sent looking for the mother came out and told me they couldn't find her in any of the Sunday School Classes. So the girl and I went walking back toward primary.

It was at this point the mother walked into the church from outside and found us in the hall. She took one look at us in the hall and without even talking to the girl or to me she just said "That's it were going home. This is why we don't come because you don't know how to behave". My heart sank. I knew this is what was going to happen and I knew this little girl would never learn to behave in Primary unless she did come. The mother left us in the hall while she gathered the two other girls from their classes.

This is where I finally did the right thing and sat down with this girl in the hall and talked to her. She still wasn't sitting with me. She was still kicking the walls and doors. But she wasn't yelling or running. I asked her what she did like about primary. She of course said "nothing, it's boring". I asked her about her primary teacher and if she liked her. She said "yes". "What kinds of things does your teacher do in class?" I asked. "She talks about Jesus" was the answer. I proceeded to talk about Jesus and how he loved her and wanted her to be in her class. Then I asked her "how can we show Jesus we love him?". "By being good" was the reply. I saw the mother with her baby taken out of nursery and her oldest girl taken out of her class walking angrily toward us. She just glared at the little girl and grumbled out "Come on, you can run around at home. You don't need to stay here and be someone else's problem." There was a mix of feeling running through me. I felt relieved from having to deal with this difficult child and yet sad that I knew she should be there at Primary and didn't know when or if they would come back.

I have thought about those 15 minutes many times since. What did I do wrong and what should I have done? I kept asking myself. I prayed about it last night and my early morning mulling is the result and answer to that prayer.
I know I failed this little girl yesterday. I let my emotions get riled up and I didn't give her what she really needed and what she comes to church for. That little girl needs and needed love, my love, and she needed to know that Jesus loves her. I was reminded of a recent stake primary meeting where they talked about this very thing. Each Sunday, no matter how old, every child should get three things.
  • First they need to feel loved by teachers and leaders and especially by Jesus Christ.
  • Second the child needs to be taught the gospel.
  • Third the child needs to feel the spirit.

Isn't this how it always is. I seem to remember or be reminded of things after the fact instead of when in the situation. I feel horrible that I didn't handle myself or the girls needs well. I would like to blame it on the fact that I was sick, tired and hungry. But the reality is that I failed this little girl. I didn't give her or help her feel the things she needed while at church on Sunday. I only hope that mother will bring those three girls back to church soon. I am going to have to make a better effort to reach out to this family especially, but to every child that I come in contact with on Sunday. Instead of seeing this girl as a discipline problem I should see her as a opportunity to teach and show Christ like love. Hopefully.... no... I will behave better next time.


My Ice Cream Diary said...

This is the point where my mom usually says, "You need to go take them a plate of cookies." As silly as it sounds it usually works wonders.

I am, and have been many times, the primary secretary so I get put with the troubled kids quite often. It is always hard when you are dealing with a child that doesn't come regularly because you don't know how things will work out (and I've done way worse than this. I once had an inactive 7 year old boy in the halls screaming at the top of his lungs, "I HATE CHURCH. I HATE JESUS. I HATE PRIMARY, AND I HATE YOU!). But now you are better prepared for the next time she comes. Hopefully the mom can be influenced to come once again.

Take heart, you were doing the best you could in the moment.

Bibliophile said...

I agree with "My Ice Cream Diary." These situations happen now and again. I've had several of them myself. The best thing to do is to figure out how you will handle something like this the next time it occurs. The plate of cookies might be a good gesture. It depends on whether or not the mother was searching for some reason to leave the Church. In that case, you would be the scapegoat for their excuses. I think you did the best you could at the time. Children are frustrating creatures, for sure!

Andrea said...

I got a little teary reading your post. Haven't we all been there and done that? Don't be so hard on yourself. If we already knew the answers to all the tough situations in life, we wouldn't be here in this "classroom" called earth. Maybe this is an opportunity to make some kind of connection with this family. After all, now you have a perfectly good reason to show up at her door and show genuine concern for the way things were left on Sunday.

Sounds like this mom needs to know that the church doors are open for the "imperfect", otherwise it would sit empty every Sunday. :0)

Tammy said...

I think you did better than most of us would in a very trying situation. Don't be too hard on yourself. ;)

And I also agree that a plate of cookies fixes a lot of things!

Sonja said...

Thank you so much for sharing this very important message. I loved reading how you analyzed the situation afterwards and took a lesson away from it. (Just like a good homeschooler!)

I think a lot of people wouldn't have thought twice about it, and the fact that you did, makes me think you are a really good person.