“You know how I was late to school today, Mom? Well, when I got there, I could tell that my teacher was really disappointed that I was there. I think she was looking forward to a whole day without me there.”
I didn’t know how to respond. Children always know how adults feel about them, whether or not they can articulate it. “Wow,” I said, “that must have been really hard to see.”
“It was,” he said. “Sometimes I try to make her happy, but I think it would make her happier if I just wasn’t there. No one wants me at school, Mom.”
My child had high needs in the classroom. He had a teacher aide part of the day but still struggled with attention, completing tasks, and not distracting his classmates. He was never the child to get picked first for a group project or the child asked to take something to the office. In all fairness, had he been sent to the office for a delivery, it is unlikely the teacher would have seen him again for some time. The kids in his class groaned and even cried when they were assigned to do a group project with him. He was difficult to get on board, had ideas that didn’t pertain to the assignment, and was always breaking things they were working on. And yet he was always so eager in the good ways also – eager to share… eager to give hugs….eager to smile and interact… eager to get to the next class… eager to finish class. His eagerness to please was without bounds, and he usually failed miserably at the thing he wanted the most.
The Parable of the Vineyard
In Mathew 20:1-16, Jesus tells a parable about a group of vineyard workers waiting to be hired for labor. The owner of the vineyard went out early and collected his first wave of workers, promising to pay them one denarius for the day. Then again around 9:00 in the morning, he saw another group of workers in the marketplace with nothing to do and invited them to work for him. This time he said, “I will pay you whatever is right.” He did the same thing at noon, 3:00, and 5:00 in the afternoon. To the last group he said, “Why have you been standing here all day doing nothing?” They responded, “Because no one has hired us.”
Growing up in a farming community, I am not unfamiliar with the ways of day laborers. The marketplace must have been the place where landowners went to find workmen. The workers hired first are always the strongest, the most skilled, and the ones with the best reputation for working hard and completing their jobs. Landowners know they must arrive early to get the best labor because everyone wants that quality of workers. The unique thing about this landowner is that he got the best labor force and then continued to go back until the very end of the day. The 5:00 o’clock crowd were clearly not desirable hires. Maybe they had some sort of disability, maybe they looked weak, maybe they had a reputation for ignoring directions, maybe they carried contention with them wherever they went, and maybe they were just lazy. They were the 5:00 o’clock crowd for a reason.
What does the 5 O’clock crowd look like?
- The small fifth grader who is always picked last for soccer because he is one foot smaller than everyone else.
- The awkward office mate who never gets invited for office lunches because conversations with him are never enjoyable.
- The highschooler with ADHD whose impulse control issues mean he is constantly in BIG trouble. Plus this kid can’t even remember to take out the garbage every day. Trusting him with anything else would be ridiculous.
- The twelve-year old girl who creates conflict in every situation she participates in. Trouble follows this little one.
- The child with a developmental delay that isn’t capable of understanding or following directions.
- The convicted felon who struggles daily finding work because of his record.
- Children with histories of complex trauma.
- People with mental illness.
This 5:00 o’clock crowd was not a crowd of stellar citizens. It was a crowd of marginalized persons. They were the reject crowd. They were passed by over and over and over again, and yet still they stood at that marketplace waiting for someone to hire them because their NEED was great.
Here is the beautiful thing about this parable. The landowner calls the misfit crowd to pay them first. They had only been working for one hour, and he gives them a FULL day wage. He then goes on and gives everyone the same full day payment. It makes the ones hired early-on angry. They weren’t angry because they were being cheated. They were angry because the master was being generous.
I promise I am getting to the parenting application although it has taken me longer than usual this time. Jesus gives us what we NEED, not what we DESERVE. Is it possible for us to treat our children with that same gentleness and kindness? Can we give them what they NEED and not what they DESERVE? Can we give a 5:00 o’clock marketplace child so much grace that we are giving him/her the tenderness, affection, pride, and inheritance equal to that of the child that gets up before dawn to work? Can we do this even if they never earn it, but always NEED it?
Parents with the Jonah Spirit
I have met some parents that have what I call a Jonah spirit. After Jonah went to Nineveh and the Ninevites turned to God, Jonah became very depressed. He wanted the Ninevites to die at God’s hand. His response was, “I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity. Now, O Lord, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live.” Jonah was so angry at God for not giving the Ninevites what they deserved that he wanted to die. Parents with a Jonah spirit want to punish their children more than they want to help their children. They want to make their children suffer the way they have suffered. These parents are score keepers and their children are always behind.
Here is the thing that 5:00 o’clock marketplace kids suffer all day. They endure rejection after rejection. They have huge insecurities. They irritate their teachers, forget assignments, get in fights, steal food, get suspended, antagonize, never sit still, etc. They compare themselves constantly to other kids who have favor with adults. I work with parents that feel like they MUST constantly punish these 5:00 o’clock marketplace kids. They feel as though they can punish these misbehaviors away. They feel as though they MUST give these children what they deserve. They often quote verses in the Bible about judgment, obedience and the “rod”.
The message of the Bible is undeserved mercy for all of us. You probably read the parable thinking you would have been picked early-on in the day. Maybe in this world you are everyone’s first pick; maybe you are an overachieving, hyper-responsible person. In God’s eyes, we are all the 5 o’clock crowd getting mercy none of us can earn, getting salvation none of us can pay for, inheriting the kingdom without being born into royalty. I will end with this quote by Dr. Karyn Purvis. “Don’t expect children to act like Jesus; instead, just treat them like Jesus would.” Can you treat really hard kids with kindness they don’t deserve so that they can experience a connection they have never had?