Upon reflecting, I think back to my first week. As I looked through the file of one of my first clients, I learned about his abuse, the suicide attempt, and that he has trouble in school. I headed straight to his third grade classroom to meet him and hopefully offer some emotional support during his school day.
When I signed in at the office and asked for my client, the receptionist literally laughed out loud, rolled her eyes, and said, “good luck”. To which I inquired if he was having a bad day and she explained that he has a bad day everyday. Apparently that morning he had unplugged all the computer equipment and monitors, flipped desks, cussed out classmates, and kicked his teacher in the shins.
I took a moment before heading into C’s classroom to ask God what C needed to hear from me.
God told me to tell C that he’s a good kid.
When I walked into his classroom he was sitting in a desk all by himself facing the corner, arms folded, with a scowl on his face. I talked with him for a bit – fully engaged and interested in him. Sometimes all a kid needs is for someone to find them important enough to be granted their full attention.
He was pretty short with me and closed off. I think he probably expected me to view him as impossible and out of control like everyone else does.
I looked for a good opening and soon spoke the truth God shared with me. “You know, C, I think you’re a really good kid. I was wondering if maybe youd be my friend?”. Immediately, his demeanor softened and he started inviting me into his world. Perhaps, one of the greatest honors I’ve ever been given.
I spent a lot of time with C at his school. When I was with him, his behavior was impeccable and he excelled in his work. This made his teacher mad to some degree actually, which I found kinda funny. Mr. T explained to me one day with full frustration that he appreciates the load taken off of him when I’m around, but that this isn’t who C actually is. He tried to get me to understand that C was tricking me or something and that in reality he is disruptive and impossible.
I smiled and told this teacher that all C has needed all along was someone to believe that in actuality, the kind, obedient kid before us right now is the real him.
I decided to take C back to my office one day to work on some things with him. I believe in therapy and all that, but honestly, I believe in the love and power of God more. So sometimes I ditch the therapy and get back to the basics. On this day, I was utilizing the sand tray. My major focus remained helping C believe that he’s good – that he is not the person others may see him as. He’s not his worst behavior. Of course I worked with him on emotion identification and regulation and whatever, but it wasn’t the most important thing to me.
I picked up a hand full of sand and shared the concept of psalm 139. I told him that God’s thoughts of him are more than all the sand of all the sea shores.
I then picked up one single grain of sand, placed it in his hand, and asked, “what do you think this thought God has of you is?”.
He looked down at his toes, full of shame, and muttered “..that I’m a bad kid”.
I looked him in the eyes, full of tears, smiled, and said that God’s thoughts of Him are ONLY and ALWAYS kind.
Puzzled, he asked, “well, what is it then?”.
And I said, “this thought, is that you are a good kid with a good heart”.
There’s this concept in the church that I have believed most my life, but have come to find is off entirely. It’s the idea that we are all merely “sinners saved by grace”. In other words, our heart is evil, but God loves us anyway. This is one of the most disastrous misconceptions in the church today. It is as if people are scared to think highly of themselves – it’s a false humility, really. And it keeps people trapped in the very paradigms Jesus died to free them from.
Yes, the Old Testament speaks to the heart of a man being evil. But we live on the other side of the New Testament, where, through Jesus, we have a new identity and God makes all things new. My heart is not evil. In fact, anything evil in my heart is not me. My identity is no longer a sinner and never will be again. I am a saint. I am righteous. Holiness runs through my veins. If you know Jesus, then you are family and this is your identity too. If you do not know Jesus, He has an open invitation waiting for you. In fact, He has been setting a place for you at the dinner table all along. And He waits patiently, excited for the possibility of introducing you to yourself.
I continued to work with C a lot. One particular day when I went into his school, I rounded the corner to find a very angry third grader screaming at the teacher and attempting to run away.
He turned around, saw me, and froze in his place. This is the first time I had ever witnessed his bad behavior. The look on his face broke my heart into a million tiny pieces. If it could talk, it might have said, “oh no, she’s seen the real me, now she knows I’ve been a phony, now she knows I’m a bad kid!”.
Crying, he ran and hid under a table in his classroom. Naturally, I crawled under there with him. With his face inbetween his knees, he wouldn’t talk to me or look at me. I couldn’t seem to pull him out of his shame, so I decided to simply be with him instead. I didn’t say much to him that day, but I sat under that table with him for over an hour, waiting. I wanted him to know he wasn’t alone. When it came time to leave, I leaned over to him and reminded him of who he is – that his heart is good.
It took a couple of weeks and sessions for him to make eye contact with me again. But over time, he started to believe the truth about who he is. I slowly but surely saw Love free him from his shame.
Through this experience, I learned that a person in shame needs two things above all else.
First of all, a person in shame needs to be pursued. I think there’s an 8 year old kid inside of all of us who really wants to go hide under a table whenever we mess up. Idk about you, but I’ve learned that Jesus always follows me under mine, and waits patiently there until I make eye contact with him again.
Secondly, a person in shame needs honor. Not only does God always pursue us when we crawl under the table to hide, but He sits before all our ugly and views us in high regards anyway. To have someone see the darkest parts of you and think highly of you in it’s presence – that’s the Love of God. It has the power to bring infinite freedom.
If you are a friend of mine, I vow to always think highly of you in this way. Even in the midst of discovering your darkest parts.
I worked with C for months. I’m happy to report that he is an altogether different kid than he was a half of a year ago. His anger has dissolved, and in its place is the kind kid God saw from the beginning. I’m forever thankful that God chose me to call this forth in him – what a privilege.
I had my last session with C today. We were playing in the sand box and as I sifted through sand, C recounted a memory from a while back that must have stood out to him. He made a comment about God having lots and lots of thoughts. I picked up a grain of sand and placed it in his had. He smiled, and with words as light as a feather, he exclaimed in full assurance that this specific thought was that God thinks he’s a good kid.
I learned a lot about God through being friends with C, but perhaps the greatest thing I learned is that knowing who we are (and who we are not) is one of the most important things about us. Second, only to knowing who God is.. and who He is not.
You are not your depression or your addiction. You are not your biggest mistake or greatest weakness. You are not worthless, stupid, crazy, or any of the other rediculous things people have labeled you as. These things are not your true identity.
I’ve realized that I am a lot like C in many ways. I have believed a lot of lies about myself for a long time. But God continues to pursue me, honor me, and speak His truth to these lies everyday. And with each passing day my identity is being shaped and further walked in as God reminds me of who I am. With each grain of sand that I begin to believe as truth, God is calling forth the real me. You know what, I’m a lot different person than I was 6 months ago too.