This post is different from others in that it isn’t specifically about my grandchildren–but it could be. I’ve been thinking about parents’ responsibility to protect their children from adults who might harm them, and also to teach them how to cope with unpleasant people and situations. But do we also have a wider responsibility? What about adults and older children who make others uncomfortable because they themselves have some sort of disability? Years ago I was friends with a young man who had a mild mental disability, and sometimes got himself into trouble because he didn’t pick up on nuances.
In this story I explore how a church or community might deal with a young man whose mental disability and resulting poor social skills get him into hot water with parents. I then approached Dove’s Nest, an organization that seeks to “empower and equip faith communities to keep children and youth safe in their homes, churches, and communities.” They liked the story, and agreed to provide a link to it in their newsletter.
I’d be interested to hear what you think of the story, and encourage you to explore the Dove’s Nest website for more information on protecting children.
“I don’t like Jason,” fumed Marcy on the way home from church. “He wants to hug me all the time.”
“Did you ask him to stop?” asked Mom.
“Yes, but he just laughs!” Marcy’s face clouded. “I wish he didn’t come to our church.”
Mom looked sad. “I understand, sweetheart. Let’s talk about it when we get home.”
Both Mom and Marcy’s big brother, Darren, enjoyed their tuna sandwiches and mushroom soup. But Marcy didn’t feel like eating. Darren talked about the youth retreat, but Marcy didn’t feel much like talking, either.
“We need to talk about Jason,” said Mom.
“I don’t like him! He always wants to play with us, and then he catches us and hugs us!”
“Darren, can you watch Marcy after church from now on?” asked Mom. “Of course you can talk with your friends, but just keep an eye on Marcy. If you see Jason coming over for a hug, take Marcy’s hand and walk away with her.”
“I’ll do more than that!” Darren growled.
“No, no,” said Mom. “Jason doesn’t mean any harm. He just has trouble understanding some things. He can’t read the way you can, Darren, and he can’t remember things the way you can remember them, Marcy. Some of the parents have talked to Jason about hugging the little kids. He says he’s sorry, but then he does it again. So I’m going to talk to Pastor Ben.”
Later that week Pastor Ben met with the parents of the little kids.
“I know Jason would never hurt a child on purpose,” Marcy and Darren’s mom said, “but he’s making Marcy uncomfortable. It’s getting so that she doesn’t want to come to church.”
“And he keeps giving Emma candy,” added Mrs. Fair. “I’ve told him not to, and I’ve said it spoils her dinner, but he just does it anyway.”
“I don’t like him around Robbie,” said Mr. Jones. “He keeps wanting to hold him, and Robbie wants to run and play. And he thinks it’s funny when Robbie cries and tries to get away.”
Pastor Ben listened carefully and made notes. Then he said, “Now that we’re clear on the problem, how can we keep the children comfortable and still help Jason?”
“Maybe he should go to the church down the street,” suggested Mrs. Jones. “There are mostly older people there.”
“I don’t think we should suggest that,” said Marcy and Darren’s mom. “That would really hurt Jason. There must be something we can do to help him fit in better here. What are his strengths?”
“Well, he’s friendly. He does love people and he loves to help,” said Mrs. Jones.
Then the grown-ups had a lot of good ideas.
“We pick Jason up every Sunday morning,” said Mr. Fair. “Maybe I’ll see if he wants to come early and help me shovel the sidewalk. It’s supposed to snow. Emma can come later with her mom.”
“And he can help me clean up the coffee cups after the service,” volunteered Marcy and Darren’s dad. “That’s when Jason seems to have most of his problems.”
“He’s been coming out to shinny hockey for the past couple of months,” said Mr. Schultz, “and we usually go out for coffee after. I’ll try to talk to him then about not playing with the little kids.”
“I’ll talk to him, too,” said Pastor Ben. “He’s coming with me to the seniors’ lodge on Thursday.”
That night, Mom and Dad told Marcy and Darren about the meeting. “I want to help too,” said Marcy. “God wants us to love everybody, right?”
“Yes, He does,” smiled Mom.
“I can help, too,” offered Darren.
The family prayed and talked. How could they all help Jason?
“I’ll make him some cookies and put sprinkles on,” said Marcy happily.
“And we can both give them to Jason on Sunday,” added Darren.
“You know,” said Mom, “part of Jason’s problem is that he’s lonely. Let’s invite him to Marcy’s school concert.”
“Sure,” said Darren. “And I’ll sit with him in the back of the van.”
Now, if you went to the Good Shepherd Community Church after that, you might see Jason pouring Pastor Ben’s coffee after the service. Or talking with the men about hockey.
Or maybe not.
One Sunday morning Mr. Jones heard a loud scream from Robbie, and he looked over to see Jason holding the howling little boy.
Mr. Jones snatched his son away from Jason and held the little boy close, glaring at Jason—until Pastor Ben came running.
“I saw what happened,” Pastor Ben said. “Robbie fell down the stairs and Jason picked him up. Thank you, Jason.”
Then Jason started to cry. “I know I’m not supposed to play with the little kids any more,” he sobbed, “but I didn’t think this was playing.”
“And you’re right, it wasn’t,” said Mr. Jones kindly. “You weren’t playing with Robbie, you were helping him. I was wrong. I’m sorry, Jason.”
Jason never did learn what the word “boundaries” meant, but he did learn what he should and shouldn’t do.
And he knew he belonged at Pastor Ben’s church.
“…you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28b, New International Version)