Responding to Trouble

At potluck tonight, we ran into some problems with one of our older boys who attends.  Some of the older ones are generally more disrespectful and less interested in participating in what’s going on.  Most of them act like they want to hang out together, eat our food, and generally blow us off altogether.

It’s frustrating, though, when it consistently comes from our regular attenders, the ones with whom we feel like we have some semblance of a relationship.  That’s what happened tonight.

Starts off with him just being rude and talking loudly to people at his table during the welcome and the prayer.  Despite repeated warnings.  Despite me reminding him that he’s the oldest at the table, and I bug him the most because I think he’s able to be a leader with the other guys.  Despite me standing right behind him, with a firm hand on his shoulder, during the prayer.  Honestly, I should have sent him home after that.

But, of course, we’re too nice for that.

Until finally, after dinner, I overhear him loudly mocking one of the adults of our church.  Final straw.  He knows why I’m coming to talk to him, and tries to imply that “someone else” said that.  I tell him it’s time to leave.  He grins and walks away.  I follow, and reiterate that it’s time for him to go home.  Again, blows it off and walks away.

By default, if verbal instructions don’t work, and they won’t pay us enough attention to actually let us talk to them, the next step is to physically escort them to the door.  This isn’t exactly new to us anymore.  So, I reach for him, and grab him by the scruff of his neck, which was about the easiest thing to get ahold of at the moment…

Until he turns on me, arms raised, thoroughly pissed and going off about NEVER grabbing his neck like that, and so on.  Oops…

In that instant, a couple of things quickly went through my mind, both of which I’m particularly encouraged by.  First, as he turned and raised his arms, the first thing that went through my mind was how to quickly grab and twist his arm in order to control him.  I’m really glad my brain didn’t freeze, and that my reflex was definitely on controlling the situation.  Second, my mind recognized that he wasn’t going to swing at me, and that a lot of people were paying attention, so maybe this wasn’t the best time to continue using physical force.

My answer?  I just put my hands up, palms out, making it clear that I wasn’t going to touch him, and waiting for him to finish shouting.  That went on for a few seconds, until someone else solved the problem… another one of our neighborhood teens (who is essentially our poster child for the positive results of working with these kids) came up behind the shouter, wrapped his arms around him, picked him up, and carried him outside.

I followed, apologized for having grabbed him so forcefully, and asked if he wanted to talk through this now that we were outside.  Obviously he was still pissed and wanted nothing of it.

End result?  Dunno, we’ll find out.  I tried to make amends as quickly as I could for disrespecting him, but I don’t think I was wrong in how I dealt with things, except for being maybe a bit too strong. We’ve decided that he’s not allowed back at potluck until he’s willing to sit down and talk with me.  That’s when I’m going to make it clear that he’ll get respect from me, and I won’t lay my hands on him, when he starts respecting us. And we won’t welcome him at potluck until he’s going to do that.  Prayer for both reconciliation, but also clear expectations and firm boundaries, are greatly appreciated.

But that’s all a conversation, in theory.  At the moment, as far as I know he’s still pissed and probably has a bit of a grudge against me.  And while I’m not too worried about him, I know the people he tries to act like, and I know the people that he tries to hang out with.

I only live 30 seconds from the church, but I was still checking over my shoulder and down the street on the walk home.

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~ by Peter on August 27, 2008.

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