The quote above is the quote that begins chapter 3 of “The Shack” (by the way, I know everyone is raving about it…but I have only just started it and I am already raving!!)
I read that quote on Sunday evening and didn’t really pay it a lot of attention, I agreed with it even then, cos it’s true. There is something that is so refreshing, and yeah healing, about being with a child. Their innocence, trust and sense of fun is something that is so very absent everywhere else in this messed up world!! But in the work I’m doing here i don’t really get to work with anybody i would call “children” considering the descripton that I just used. It’s heartbreaking and really really wrong, but even some of my 5 year olds I would class as young people or “youth”. Because of all the things that they have seen and had to deal with in their short lives; they’re not innocent, they don’t trust anyone cos they’ve been taught not to and they don’t have a sense of fun cos life round here is tough! They have to be tough and forget their childish ways as soon as they can, which is just messed up!!
But I had such an awesome Monday, that this quote came back to me and I really understood it on so many levels, and I dunno i had a renewed “THIS is why I do what I do” moment.
I go in to the local primary school on a monday to help with a year 3 class. They are a relativley nice bunch, but as with any young people round here there is alot of behavioural issues and more need than any school, teacher or youthworker could ever hope to address fully. I usually just hang around, chat with the kids, do some reading with them and am on hand if the teacer needs it . On monday they had a substitute, so they were even more crazy than usual and I was having to help WAY more than I usually do!! All afternoon two of the girls had been getting at eachother, one of them coming to me and telling me that the other was being nasty followed by the other telling me exactly the same!! I wasn’t gonna get involved and was telling them to ignore eachother and get on with their science. All of a sudden one of the girls jumps up sending her chair flying, throws her work at me, whacks the other around the head with her jumper and legs it out of the class…at this the substitute is standing there looking useless so I go on a mission to find out little escapee!!
I almost walked straight past her cos she was sat under all the coat hooks, curled up in a tiny ball in the corner. I sat down next to her, in the middle of the corridor (we must have looked quite odd) and she was in tears…honestly crying so much for such a small girl!! I was abit confused to start with, cos she wasn’t the one who’d been whacked round the head. But then as we started talking, which she took some persuading to do at first, my heart was breaking for this little girl. It turns out that she has always had a real problem with contolling her emotions; and when she gets mad, boy does she get mad!! In her infant school they did lots to help her with this but now she is in the juniors they have kinda left her to sort it out herself. Apparently last week, she had a really good week, had managed to control herself really well and she’d been given one of the “star of the week” spots. But now, she was SO angry at herself. She was SO disappointed and was scared of letting her parents and new teacher down. She was saying that she wished she’d never got this award last week, cos all the things she was feeling now was so much worse than all the anger she had ever felt towards anyone. As she was telling me all this through her sobs, i was close to tears myself. Here’s a girl who’s school career has pretty much sucked so far,she has recieved one award in 4 years…and she’s wishing that she’d never even got that!!
She is so confused, so angry all the time, hurting so much…and so innocent in what she’s feeling. How can my heart not go out to children like her? It’s kids like her that I delight in doing my work for. I felt like actually I did something for her, cos I sat and listened to her and took the time to show her I cared (if the substitute had gone out I know he would have just sent her to the headmistress!!), in that moment I stopped feeling pointless.
And then later on that evening, i was at Phil’s (my boss) house waiting for our Monday group to start. I was there longer than I usually am, and so got more of a chance to play and spend time with Lucy his little eighteen month old. She is goregous and so good, but spending just over an hour with her and sitting with her while she ate and then entertaining her while Phil was working just gave me such an awesome feeling. All my young people were once this little, once this innocent, were once this vulnerable and trusting of everyone, and once upon a time they were all this easily amused!! All of those forgotten things (the innocence, trust and fun) are all still there within them…they’re just buried so deep because they have to be growing up in a place like this. Which means that if we put in enough time and work, take the time to show we care enough and just be there for them that these things can be found again!!
If there is that kind of promise and potential in my work, how can I feel that what I’m doing means nothing? How can i not burn with compassion for these guys? How can I not love them?
The answer is I can’t. Which makes my job a lot easier, but harder at the same time…cos caring so much and getting so emotionally involved hurts like hell!!
But after such an amazing start to the week I am relishing things. Give me all the hard, badly behaved, “horrible” ones. Give me all the drunk and high ones on a Friday night. Give me the ones who don’t listen to a word we say and just abuse us as the thanks for the work we do. Because inside every single one is a little, curled up, sobbing, confused child sitting under the coats crying out for someone to sit and listen. There is so much potential!!
Wow this sounds way more positive than your first post – and I’m really pleased to see it. Yeah youth work can be a bit of a slog sometimes, especially in a context like yours, and so you have to hold on to and remember the occasional “this is why I do what I do” moments, because they can help you through the tough stuff.
You’re right that getting emotionally involved hurts like hell at times – but what a privilege to be invited to get involved; to be trusted enough to get involved.
It’s worth remembering that as youth workers when our heart’s break for ‘our’ young people, how much more does God’s heart break for them. When we see these people who have been messed up by circumstance and feel worthless, we should ask to see them with God’s eyes. They may feel worthless, but we should see potential, and work to help them see it too. It’s never easy, and it’s rarely quick, but it’s always rewarding and worthwhile in the end.
Hope you continue to enjoy the book! Keep up the good work…
Never fear Sis – you keep writing ’em and I’ll keep reading ’em…