Matthew 25: 37- 40 (NLT)
Then these righteous ones will reply, “Lord, when did we ever see you hungry and feed you? Or thirsty and give you something to drink? Or a stranger and show you hospitality? Or naked and give you clothing? When did we ever see you sick or in prison and visit you?”
And the King will say, “I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!”
“Get off me you stupid . . .! I’m going to . . . cut your [expletive] throat!” As I put “Mickey” into a safe-hold, I began wondering when and how my life had come to this – chasing an emotionally disturbed 7 year old and allowing him to verbally assault me on a daily basis.
After graduating from college and finding teaching positions to be scarce, I found employment as a paraprofessional at a local elementary school. While working with students with Emotional Behavior Disorders, I assumed the money and benefits would make it worthwhile until that “perfect” teaching job opened up. That plan pretty much went to pot when “Mickey” was put under my care.
“Mickey” is a cute first-grader. He loves hockey, SpongeBob, and his missing front teeth. For the first few weeks of our placement, he didn’t meet the description of your average student with EBD. He was full of cuddles and loved spending time with me.
A few weeks into his stay at our school, however, the honeymoon was over. The sunny, happy disposition had given way to anger and rage. The hugs had turn into physical attacks. I would look at Mickey and wonder what had happened to my student.
In our time together, I’ve seen Mickey in a number of disturbing situations: attacking a pregnant teacher with a straightened safety pin, punching a classmate in the ear without provocation, cutting himself, kicking/biting/spitting at various teachers, tearing apart classrooms, kicking holes in walls, fleeing from school across busy streets, threatening to kill myself and others, excessive swearing, etc.
As I carried Mickey into our cool-down room on this occasion, the usual threats and curses came flailing out. The shock value of his language had long since worn off. Incidences like this become part of my day. I held him until he settled down. I let him go. Exhaling deeply, I allowed myself to lean back against the wall and fall slowly down to the floor. My head leaned back as I looked up to the fluorescent light above.
Mickey scurried away on his hands and knees under the rug in the room. It hadn’t been vacuumed in days and I could see dirt gathering on his navy school uniform. Somehow, as disgusting as it was, the heavy rug made him feel safe and controlled. He was covered in the filthy mat from head to toe.
Immediately, feelings of anger welled up in me. I’m too smart, talented, and well-trained to baby-sit this kid anymore! I knew his parents would be livid when they heard about this.
Mickey was quietly sobbing under the carpet. I could see his tiny body heaving up and down underneath. He slowly grabbed the edge of the rug and peered at me with one longing-eye. After these rages, I would give Mickey a “safety-squeeze” by wrapping my arms around him and applying deep pressure. These “squeezes” let him know we were still “friends” and he was safe.
But today was not a day for cuddles. I was exhausted from the umpteen chases and holds over the past months. I couldn’t do it anymore. I could see his one eye tear-up as he disappeared back underneath the rug.
I don’t deserve this! I don’t deserve to come to work everyday and be sworn at by a psychotic, 7 year old in a thankless job. I don’t deserve this!
In the midst of this internal venting, I felt the heaviness of truth: You’re right, you don’t deserve this. You deserve nothing…
The downside of the Christian life is that my pride has to be sacrificed. It’s painful and I don’t like it, but in that moment I knew I was being challenged to let His Kingdom come. Jesus wanted to impart His heart into Mickey’s life when all I wanted was to sin-vomit on it. But I love it when you serve Mickey and share a little bit of me with him. I love it when you serve my least.
I began crying and felt pain as my pride was being cut away. I wanted to let Jesus have His way but struggled to surrender my need for vindication. Slowly and achingly, I extended my arm towards Mickey. “Hey buddy, why don’t you sit next to me so I can squeeze you?” I asked, my voice cracking.
Mickey peered out from under the rug. He pulled himself out and crawled over to me. I was struck by how small his body was next to mine. I wrapped my arm around his shoulders and asked, “You ready? Because I’m going to squeeze really, really hard.” He giggled and looked up at me, smiling with his tongue pressed up against where his two front-teeth should have been.
I cried quietly, ashamed that grace seemed to be completely missing from my natural-person. In the midst of my selfishness, I found Jesus saying Thank you for serving him, Libby. I love it when you love Mickey.
As I felt the warmth of the pleasure of Christ, I was reminded that grace is never easy. It’s painful and goes against my very nature. It wasn’t easy for Jesus to humble Himself. It wasn’t easy for my Savior to extend His arms and allow my sins to pierce him to the cross.
Every time I sacrifice pride on His altar of grace, I am challenged to look more like Jesus and die to myself. It was then and is still excruciating, but by extending my arms and embracing grace, I embrace the heart God.