Back when my life consisted of stay-at-home wife and mothering and ministering to teenagers, there was a boy named Robert in our youth group. He was from a different high school than the other kids, and his mother made him come because she just didn’t know what to do with him anymore. She was a single mom, trying her best to raise an angry teenage son on her own. This boy hated God and flies and everything in between. All the rest of the kids were at least intimidated, and mostly scared of him. It seemed he wanted to be left alone, and they obliged his wish.
I didn’t leave him alone. I always spoke, always gave him a quick hug and told him I was happy to see him. He’d grunt and nod. That was about all I got out of him, but I figured surely he needed to know someone was glad he was there.
On trips, we always took a caravan of 15-passenger vans, and if we didn’t have enough youth workers to drive, parents would help. There were no cell phones back then. The only way to communicate was two-way radios. On our way back from camp that particular Spring, a mom driving one of the vans radioed me to say she needed help. There was a boy on her van trying to kick the back window out. I told her to pull over into a parking lot and I’d handle it.
That boy was Robert. He was about 200 pounds of muscle, and I realized right off the bat he didn’t really want to kick the window out, or it would already be shattered on the pavement.
I had 14 high schoolers on my van, and she had 14 on hers. Every one of them had eyes as big as saucers as Robert kept kicking.
“Robert, come on off the van. Let’s talk.”
“Okay then, everyone else off.” Thirteen other teenagers silently slid off their seats and stood in the parking lot as I tried in vain to reason with him.
“Robert, you don’t want to kick out the window. Your mom will have to pay for it, and you know she won’t be happy.”
“I don’t care.”
“Then kick it out if it you need to. Matter of fact, I’ll pay for it myself. Obviously something has upset you pretty badly, and for some reason, kicking out a church van window will make you feel better.
But know this. If you’re trying to make me mad at you, if you’re trying to make me not like you, if you think I’ll tell you that you can’t come back anymore, it’s not working. I’m still going to want you, still going to like you, still going to want you to come back, and I’m still going to love you. So do whatcha gotta do, man. ‘Bruce Lee‘ that sucker on outta there.”
With that, I sat back, crossed my arms, and waited for his next move. Somehow, some way, the Spirit of God let me see into his heart for a split second, and I saw a hurting young man. The pain in his eyes shone through just long enough for me to have compassion, long enough for me to see through his tough guy image and get a glimpse of a young man who needed love. Unconditionally.
He looked at me like I had two heads. He couldn’t believe what he’d heard — but he stopped kicking.
“You don’t care if I kick out this window?”
“You’re going to pay for it yourself?”
“And you’d still want me to come back?”
“Yep. Nothing you can do will make me not want you to come back. Nothing you can do will make me not love you. So kicking out this window will be a complete waste of time, but hey, rock on with your bad self, dude.”
After a few seconds of staring at me in shock. His face broke into a smile.
“You’re a crazy lady,” he said.
I smiled back. “That’s what they tell me.”
He grinned some more and I said, “Can we head home now that you realize kicking out the window is a waste of time?” He agreed we could.
From that day on, Robert loved me back. He smiled every time he saw me. He would wrap those big arms around me and hug me hard, so hard I couldn’t breathe. When he’d get to church, he always sought me out, no matter where I was. And he never left without saying goodbye. He wasn’t much for chitchat, but he was always cordial. We never had another day’s trouble out of him.
I’d like to say I’m still close to Robert, but the truth is, he moved away and I never heard from him again. I don’t know if he ever found anyone to see though his tough as nails exterior into his heart. But this one thing I know — that day, that one day, he found out he was loved no matter how unlovely he behaved.
Oh don’t get me wrong, if MY kids had been doing that, I’d have beaten them like red headed stepchildren! They might never have seen the light of day again! But Robert didn’t need any more discipline, he didn’t need any more anger, anyone else to tell him what a bad kid he was. I imagine he’d seen and heard quite a bit of that in his 17 years. What he needed was for someone, anyone, to see he was hurting. Something on the inside of him was so painful that it had to come out.
One Scripture kept going through my mind that day. Proverbs 15:1,
A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.
What good would a shouting match have been? If I’d started yelling at Robert, do you think he would have stopped? Heck no. That window would have been toast. And I dang sure wasn’t gonna physically remove him. He was twice my size. I’m tough, but I ain’t that tough!
I Peter 4:8 says,
Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.
Look around you. Listen closely. Sometimes those who are the least lovable are the ones who need it the most.
The very last thing this world needs is one more angry voice. Be the soft answer that turns away wrath. A multitude of sins doesn’t stand a chance against love.
Thank you for reminding me to be gentle rather than angry and to love the one more who needs it the most.
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Ellen willis said:
Great story! You’ve touched many teenagers hearts. Those were the good ol days.
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Southern Fried Encouragement said:
I love you sweet girl!