“How to Hug a Porcupine and Squeeze a Skunk”
“Always be humble and gentle. Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other’s faults because of your love.”
Ephesians 4:2 (NLT)
I once worked as a substitute teacher. While that evokes images of chewing gum stuck to chairs and strategically placed “Kick me!” signs, this was not my experience. Sure, many of the kids were squirrely, but I never had an ounce of trouble with any of them.
Until one day.
That was the day the principal told me, “In third hour you will have a student named John Smith. Just send him down to the office before class starts. He’s known as Big Bad John, and he’s never successfully made it through even one hour with a sub. He will disrupt the class, bully others and try to make you look stupid. I want to spare you any confrontation.”
I knew exactly which student he meant and really wanted a chance to reach this troublemaker. So I petitioned the principal: “May I attempt to keep him in class and then send him to the office if he causes trouble? I’d love to try, if you don’t mind.”
“Be my guest,” he laughingly replied. “I’ll expect him shortly after class begins.”
Just before third period, a towering, husky student appeared in the doorway. He had on ripped jeans--before they were fashionable--and a soiled light blue T-shirt. I could tell from the way the students stayed back that his odor was as unpleasant as his appearance and personality. I shot up a quick prayer and greeted him.
With a smug look on his unwashed face, he boldly declared, “I suppose you’ve heard ’bout me. I’ll bet the principal told you to send me right to the office ’cause ain’t none of you subs able to handle me.”
“Nope,” I replied, just as quickly and confidently. “I heard you were going to be in my class, and I also heard you are a great kid. Do you mind helping me pass out these papers?”
Big Bad John wasn’t sure what to do. Some he threw on the floor. Another he used to play a game of keep-away with a girl in class. I followed behind him, corrected whatever he did, picking up the papers or gently taking one from his hand to give to a student. I thanked him when he was through, making no comment on his behavior.
Next, we watched a movie, and John began to act like his nickname. He was disruptive--not just talking but also taunting other students.
I walked over to his chair, squatted down, looked him in the eye and firmly but gently said, “Hey, look, John. I know that you have a reputation of never being able to make it through an hour with a substitute teacher. But I say today we show the principal a thing or two. I know you can cooperate. I know you are a good kid deep down inside. I’d love for that good kid to come out today and for us to be friends. Are you willing to give it a try, just this once?”
His countenance softened. For the last 15 minutes of class, John actually watched the movie without incident. After class, the school’s office staff buzzed with the news that this school bully had made it through an entire hour with a sub. After that, whenever I had John in class, he behaved well. In fact, when he saw me out at a basketball game or the grocery store, he smiled, waved and hollered, “Hi, lady.”
It’s easy to love those who are lovable. It’s a breeze to be kind to people you like. But to truly be patient and gentle toward someone who acts unloving or unbecoming is an altogether special assignment--one Jesus not only taught, but modeled.
He spent much of his time on earth with the not-so-popular people. He touched the leper. He granted dignity to the prostitute. He welcomed children and the tax collectors and those whom society rejected. Jesus modeled upside-down living and loving. And He urges us to do the same.
Let’s make it our aim not to just love the easy-to-love, but to hug the “porcupines” and squeeze the “skunks” in our lives, reaching those whose behavior and demeanor usually pushes people away rather than draws them in close.
Father, give me eyes to see through others’ tough exteriors to their hearts--hearts that so desperately need a loving touch from You through me. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.
TRUTH FOR TODAY:
John 15:17, “This is my command: Love each other.” (NIV)
Romans 12:9a, “Don’t just pretend to love others. Really love them.” (NLT)