Jonathan's Answers to Tough Questions
I feel guilty about a mistake I feel that I made. I will never forget, and the consequences were catastrophic.
I had one of those troubled kids who gave me nothing but problems. Every time I turned around I was dealing with this kid. He had a lot of issues and came from a broken home. It seemed that every time I talked with this kid, he would get mad and run away. Literally, I would have to go chasing after him every time. One night I found him walking down the center median of the highway.
I thought, "this kid is crazy." He talked about suicide a lot and I felt for sure he would never do it. One night I talked to his mother and she got mad at me because I wouldn't let him go on our mission trip with us. I explained it to her that to go on the mission trip you had to help with all the fund raisers and help with all the preparation. he hadn't done any of this. Any way, she got mad and literally picked up her bible and ran away. I was flabbergasted to say the least, but I saw where the kid got it from.
The last time I talked to the kid he ran away again and I said to myself, "I am not chasing him again." So I let him go. He apparently went home, and because I hadn't chased after him he decided he was never coming back to church again.
A few weeks later I heard he was in a car wreck and died. I still don't know even as we speak if he ever really accepted Christ into his life.
At the time I felt I had done all I could do, but after I heard he was dead, I felt this dread in my soul that I had indeed not done enough. What am I supposed to feel about this?
your brother in Christ,
I'm sorry to hear about the loss you and this boy's family suffered. A death of a child is always tragic. It's normal to feel pain in your heart with the loss of any student.
It's also natural to ask yourself if you did enough when something like this happens. But let me assure you, you had nothing to do with this boy's death. Don't feel guilty. Allow yourself to mourn his situation and the loss of his life, but don't place guilt where it doesn't belong.
It's very hard to find the balance between loving someone like this unconditionally, and fueling the flame of their own tantrums. It's a lot like parenting. If a kid whines, maybe he really needs something. But if you jump to help them every time they whine, you'll teach them that whining gets what they want. It's not an easy balance to find. We want to love them, but not hinder growth.
It sounds to me like you were there for him plenty. His running away didn't dictate you chasing him. To be honest, I think it would have been fine for you never to chase him. If someone uses a method like that for attention, they use it to gain control. The question isn't "should we stop loving them?" The question is "how can I love this person, without making their situation worse?" And chasing them will only teach them to use that method to get what they want.
One way to show love to someone like this might be a phone call or a letter after they run away. Simply let them know that you were sad to see them run away, and that you'll be there for them anytime they need it. But if they run away- that's their choice. They know where we are if they need us. If you don't hear from them, you can try to stop by and visit them. Reaching out to them is one thing. Chasing them every time they throw a fit, is not necessarily the best thing for them.
With this kid it's obvious where the problem came from. He learned it at home- and probably succeeded with it at home.
It's good that your heart is tugging you to do all that you can. We should. But "all that we can" means using your wisdom. Not just giving in to the whims of others.
God is the god of comfort. Don't be afraid to come to him for comfort, he wants us to.
For more on the subject of dealing with those who are difficult, check out some of the other articles on my ASK JONATHAN page where I share some more thoughts on how to deal with the "one" kid that causes problems. Should we let the one kid ruin it for everyone else? What about the one lost sheep? I answer some of these questions.
Hope that helps.
The Source for Youth Ministry