The lesson is finished and everyone has left the classroom . . . except Ethan. He sits staring at the floor. “Time to go, Ethan.” He looks up at you with tears in his eyes and mutters, “Teacher, my mom and dad are getting a divorce. Our family just changed . . . forever!”
What will you say next? You are the leader. You teach Ethan the Bible every week; you have taught him that the Bible has the answers to all of life’s questions. His life will never be the same again. With his one statement, he has invited you into his life.
Every lesson you have taught him becomes very real right now. Now is not the time for you to preach to him; he really doesn’t need a teacher right now, he needs a listener. The student has just tested the teacher. Ethan made that one statement to test you to find out if you will take time to listen.
"Our family just changed . . . forever!” Ethan may only be in fifth grade, but he does realize that his family will never be the same; he just doesn’t realize how different it will be. Within a year, the divorce papers may be signed, his parents may live in two separate homes, but the divorce will never be over when a child is involved. The fighting will continue throughout Ethan’s childhood over custody, child support, discipline, holidays, etc. But that’s still not the end. Ethan will still have to walk on eggshells as he plans his wedding. Then, when the grandchildren arrive, Ethan, Jr, has four sets of grandparents who want to share him rather than two sets. Ethan was a fifth-grade prophet; his family changed . . . forever.
If you don’t listen, he will find someone to listen, but the next set of ears may not have the purest of motives to help him.
Regardless if he is heart-broken or angry, the hardest thing you may do that day is to just keep your mouth shut for a few minutes, open your ears, and live James 1:19, “Wherefore, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath:” Ethan may be ready to dump the truck on his parents . . . who may be your friends; but right now he needs you to allow him to share his emotions. This is not the time to teach honor and respect; that must happen later. But if you correct his “attitude” right now, you may forever throw away this window of opportunity that he has extended to you as an opportunity to love him through the greatest valley he has ever entered. If you don’t listen, he will find someone to listen, but the next set of ears may not have the purest of motives to help him. As you listen, take meticulous mental notes. Those notes will give you the details you will need as you help him with three choices:
1. Respect for his parents is never a choice, God commands it. “Honor” and “obey” in Exodus 20:12 and Ephesians 6:1 are tough words to live when Ethan is the eye-witness to their disrespect to one another. He has heard both sides of their story; who should he believe? How does he honor them, when he has heard them dishonor God?
2. Forgiveness is always a choice. God always offers to forgive us (I John 1:9). Ethan is so deep in this valley right now, but this may be the greatest opportunity he has had so far in his life to show Christlike forgiveness. You have taught him Ephesians 4:32 before, but that day you were applying it to his friends and siblings. But today, even through his hurt, confusion, and anger, he still has a command from God to be kind, tenderhearted, and forgiving . . . to his parents.
3. Relationships and fellowship are interesting choices. Teach Ethan that the words, relationship and fellowship, are not synonyms. Ethan’s relationship with his parents will not change with a divorce; that was set at birth. Just as our relationship with our Heavenly Father never changes, once we trust Him as our Saviour, He will always be our Heavenly Father who will always love us and will always be accessible. Relationships do not change with emotion, but fellowship does. Even as a ten-year-old fifth grader, Ethan will be able to understand that his fellowship with God changes every day, it depends on him. Did he spend time with the Lord or ignore His presence? His relationship with God is set with God, but Ethan’s fellowship with God depends on Ethan. It’s the same with his parents; if he wants that close fellowship with his parents, who now have separate addresses, he must show them the respect that God commands, be kind through his hurt, offer forgiveness, and choose to purposefully spend time and communicate his joys, victories, sorrows, and concerns with them to strengthen their fellowship.