He Took My Shoe!


How could I calm a disruptive six-year-old and restore peace to my class?

One Sunday shortly after I became a member of the Church, I was asked at the last minute to be a substitute teacher for a class of five-and six-year-olds whose regular teacher had suddenly become ill.

When I belonged to another church, I had taught teenagers and adults, but I had no experience teaching young children. This would be a class of boys and girls I had never met, whose names I did not even know. But I had been asked, so I agreed, depending on the Lord to see that everything worked out all right—for all of us.

I walked into the room feeling unprepared, not really knowing what to expect. Fortunately, the lesson was on Jesus, a subject so dear to my heart that I would have many meaningful things to share with the children.

After a brief getting-to-know-you period, I began talking to the children about the goodness, love, and selflessness of our beloved Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. All would have been well if not for one little boy who was too restless to settle down and listen. Soon he was noisily running around the room, periodically poking or tussling with classmates who were trying to pay attention. I made repeated attempts to reason with him, to get him to stop, to coax him to join the rest of us. But reason seemed to have no power over him that day.

Soon his disruptive behavior elicited a feminine outcry that quickly became a plaintive wail and then an outraged “He took my shoe!” Turning my head, I saw one of the little girls pointing an accusing finger at the laughing, provoking figure of her tormenter.

Trying to catch him was an exercise in futility. Every time I thought I had him, he managed to pull free. Then the Holy Spirit rescued us all. A moment before, I had been completely frustrated, with no idea of how to proceed. But now, quite suddenly, I found myself standing in the middle of the room calmly, even lovingly, making eye contact with the young culprit, who had stopped momentarily to catch his breath. I gently asked him, “What would Jesus do?”

The expression on his face sobered, and after a moment’s thought he walked over to within a few feet of the little girl and suddenly pitched her shoe at her, loudly voicing a still defiant but partially acquiescent “Here!”

“How would Jesus do it?” I found myself asking him in a kind, unruffled voice. And that little child, who had been so unruly but who understood enough about Jesus to comprehend how He would act and who loved Him enough to not want to misrepresent Him, retrieved the shoe from the floor. Then he walked slowly over to the girl, humbly held out the shoe to her as if presenting her with an offering, and with his little head contritely bowed, quietly said, “I’m sorry.”

The first question could be viewed as a natural result of my focus on Jesus as I was teaching the lesson, but the second was pure inspiration. The ability I was given to feel and express a great, loving calm in the midst of a turbulent situation, and the ability that six-year-old child was given to instantly exit the “hyper” mode and respond as he did, came from a higher level than the one on which we mortals customarily live.

The lesson I learned that day has stood me—and those around me whose lives are affected by my behavior—in good stead ever since. I am grateful I was taught in such an effective way that there are better ways to cope with disruptive behavior on the part of a child who knows and loves the Lord but is temporarily out of control than by responding in kind. These ways include asking, “What would Jesus do?” and “How would Jesus do it?”

[illustration] Illustration by Roger Motzkus