The Day I Will Never Forget
I love working in children’s ministry. God has blessed me with the opportunity to tell young children about Him. That is one the greatest blessings He has ever bestowed on me. Leading a small group of children is one of my favorite things to do in children’s ministry. I love to talk to, interact with, disciple and to dig into the Word of God with them. I love to build relationships with them, and I believe that God has gifted me in this area. I have been privileged to experience many joyous and significant moments through my work with children. However, there have also been moments which have broken my heart and sent me to my knees in prayer.
I will never forget one particular Sunday afternoon when I was leading a group of kindergarteners and first graders. We had worked through all of the small group activities for that particular weekend, and I was taking advantage of the extra time to get them know them all a little bit better. We were talking about the usual suspects – pets, siblings, school, friends, etc. I was asking some questions to try to get them talking, and we started talking about what each of them had done that weekend. I asked the typical questions. Had they done anything fun? Did they spend the day with their Mom and Dad? Did they play with their pets?
As we went around the table, each child shared how they had spent their weekend thus far. Then, I it came time for one little girl to share what she had done that weekend:
We spent yesterday packing up the house in boxes.
Being just a little naïve, and not realizing what was coming next, I pressed a little harder,
Oh, are you moving? Where are you moving to? We’re going to miss you if you move far away.
She slumped down a little bit in her chair, and prepared to respond. She explained in an almost matter-of-fact tone of voice,
No, we packed up Daddy’s stuff yesterday, and he moved out of the house.
Wow! My face didn’t hide my surprise at her response despite my best efforts. I didn’t know what to say. It was the last thing I expected to come out of her mouth. I fumbled over my words and was tongue tied in that moment. I didn’t have a word of encouragement or comfort or anything else.
Learning From My Mistake
I failed in that moment because I was not prepared for it. I didn’t know what to say in that moment. In hindsight though, I did learn some valuable lessons that day.
1. I Should Have Seen It Coming
Consider the following statistics. According to 2015 figures from the Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey, only 59.76% of children in the United States live with both biological or adoptive parents. That means 41.24% live in step families, with only their mothers, with only their fathers, or some other living arrangement. That is more than 2 out of every 5 children. So, if you look around your children’s ministry on any given Sunday and randomly pick five kids, two of them are living in a situation other than the traditional two-biological-parent-household.
With eight kids in my small group that afternoon, I should have known that some of them would be children of divorce, and with the rates of divorce in this country it should not have shocked me to hear those words. That realization leads directly to the next point.
2. Be Prepared for the Conversation
The next thing I learned was that those of us who work in children’s ministry need to be prepared. We spend hours preparing lessons, we may even research child development or educational theory, we plan and we plan and we plan. That’s what we do. But, we fail to plan for those things that we don’t see coming. In this day and age, to not consider how you will respond to children suffering through the disruption of their families is almost unconscionable.
Hope 4 Hurting Kids exists, in part, to help prepare you for this type of conversation – first by being aware of its likelihood, and second by thinking about what you will say in such a situation.
3. There Is No “Right” Thing to Say
It is wrong to assume that in a moment like this that there is a “right thing” to say. While you absolutely should be prepared for the moment, it is a fallacy to presume that you will “find the right” words or “say the right thing” to make everything better again. This is not a situation that you can fix. You can empathize, allow the child to share their feelings, become a confidant, and many other things, but you cannot find magic words to make their world all right again.
4. There are Wrong Things to Say
As certain as there is not a “right thing” to say under these circumstances, there are wrong things to say.
It is fine to pray with a child whose parents are divorcing that God would strengthen and comfort them. It is never ok to pray with a child that God would bring his/her parents back together. Can you think of anything more damaging spiritually to a child than to pray with them for that and then have it not happen?
You should comfort a child, but it is not ok to insist that the child should be happy. They are grieving the loss of their family as they have known it, and they need the room and time to grieve. Never try to convince a child that they will be better off or minimize the impact of the divorce on their lives.
This article updated and adapted from an article originally published on Divorce Ministry 4 Kids on August 10 and August 11, 2011.