On Being Outside of the Norms: Accepting a Spectrum of Behaviors on the Journey and as a Journey

In the new book A Child laughs — Prayers of Hope and Justice the 77 writers take different perspectives on the concerns that they have chosen. Some speak directly to a very specific issue of justice in our world in the hopes that those who read will begin to plan to change the world.Some of the writers take a specifically child oriented focus, like Mary James who says this (among other things) of herself “I am the mom of three adult children of various delightful temperaments, ranging from that of kinetic dreamer to effervescent calm.”

I am sharing something each week from this new book available from Pilgrim Press, Amazon and Barnes and Noble (and your local bookstore, if you request it). Today I offer all of Mary’s small chapter (there are 51 chapters with a 52nd filled with miscellaneous prayers for those who wish to use the book for a year of reflections) Each chapter contains some background, personal prayer, a community prayer or liturgical piece, and some questions for personal reflection or action.

On Being Outside of the Norms: Accepting a Spectrum of Behaviors on the Journey and as a Journey

There is a child who can be counted on to be boisterous, especially during the quiet parts of a worship service. Sliding the length of the hardwood floors of the church sanctuary on his belly underneath the pews, or walking back and forth on a front pew as if he were a gymnast on a balance beam, he expresses himself with constant movement. Adults tend to define his behavior as a problem and as falling outside of acceptable norms, but if it is indeed a problem, why does he look so joyful as he slides, wiggles, whirls, runs and jumps?

This reflection is offered on behalf of all those children in our midst who seem, in increasing numbers, to be labeled “hyperactive” and to be diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder. As a minister currently blessed with three such kinetically inclined young parishioners, and a mother who has struggled to honor, direct, and channel the formidable energies of two sons with ADD over the years, I am deeply familiar with the daily challenges and joys of raising such children.

Creativity and joie de vivre are two of their charms, yet all too often they are labeled, marginalized, medicated, blamed, and shamed in ways that threaten their personhood. Many an artist and gifted leader has emerged when such a child grows into an ability to harness the blessings of boundless energy, sensitivity to noticing many things at once, and the ability to focus intensely on their particular interests.

Personal Prayer

O God, My Child Can’t Sit Still
See, O God of the Whirlwind, my child’s exuberance! See how she moves, animated by an inner energy that delights like a fresh breeze, a breeze infused with laughter! Loving movement for its own sake, she bounces, runs, twirls, slides, and jumps. Her joy bubbles over – it is built right in. How fully she loves life! How well she knows that which satisfies her soul! And yet, O God, so often, she does not fit in. So often, she is seen as problematic.
Help me, O God who parents. Grant me the wisdom, energy and grace to keep a step ahead of my child, and to help order his world in a way that allows him to safely express his true self.
Show me, O God who reveals. Show me the way to teach my child to learn from consequences, to manage his impulsivity, and to take the measure of a situation before jumping; help me offer these crucial life lessons without an inference that my child is “bad.”
Calm me, O God who soothes. Help me keep my cool when my child can’t contain herself, especially in public. Aid me in balancing the roles of being my child’s ambassador, defender, and teacher. When I can’t tell if she truly is to blame for the latest classroom catastrophe, help me to ask the right questions. Help me hold her accountable at the right times, and to deconstruct the tendency to find her guilty at those times she is unfairly blamed.
Bless my child, my friend’s child, my church’s child, my community’s child, O God. May his bounce survive all the push-back, and may his energy be harnessed in a thousand good and wonderful ways. Thank you for his sparkle, his spirit, and his specialness.

Community Prayer

Responsive Prayer for Adults Seeking to Build Intergenerational Community
(This prayer is written for the church setting, but can be adapted for other settings, such as schools, family gatherings, etc.)

One: There is Tim again, sliding on his belly under the pews, from the front of the church to the back.

Many: Help us, O God, to guide Tim with care rather than to criticize his parents.

One: There is Libby again, running by the lit candles, nearly toppling one over.

Many: Help us, O God, to be part of the village that raises Libby, rather than rolling our eyes from a distance.

One: There is Thomas again, talking out loud through all the opening prayers.

Many: Help us, O God, to find a way to include in our prayers those words that come out of the mouths of babes.

One: There is Sherrie again, throwing a tantrum on the floor.

Many: Help us, O God, to offer Sherrie’s Mom a helping hand.

One: There is Luke again, running through the crowd, nearly knocking over some of the elders.

Many: Help us, O God, to show Luke why it’s important to walk sometimes rather than to run, and to give him a job that he can be proud to do at such times.

One: There is Ella again, drawing on the pews.

Many: Help us, O God, to give Ella a place to make her art.

Gracious God, build among us a community that makes, holds, and maintains functional, purposeful, and carefully thought-out space and spaces for our children. Give us the joy of living with loving intention as an intergenerational community. Amen

Questions for Reflection/Action

How can we best involve and engage very physically active children in our public spaces?

When is discipline important, and what does constructive discipline look like? Can the word return to “disciple” or has it been taken over by negativism and we need to find a new word?

How can community members constructively take part in being supportive to the parents of children who are impulsive and very active?

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