I looked at the boy who seemed to be in deep despair….
I always shop for groceries with my wife. I don’t know how it got started but somewhere in our marriage the practice began. I push the cart while walking uprightly, or leaning my upper torso on it causing forward momentum that propels the cart ahead, depending on how tired I am. While shopping she sends me on cereal or milk quests, has me hold onto the coupons and asks me to pay the bill. I serve a pretty meaningless purpose (until bill paying time) and seldom find myself in scenarios that could be troublesome.
One day however, she sent me on an errand in the store that took me near the toy section. The toy area in grocery stores is very small, but is large enough to present problems for parents with kids. Kids can be very manipulative and very annoying at the toy-section point in the shopping experience. I assumed that “toys” were the source of the commotion in the isle next to the one I was in.
I was having trouble concentrating on the item my wife had sent me to find because of the raised voices I was hearing across the way. I couldn’t make out what was causing the increasing volume but I was getting concerned. So much so that I moved quickly to the end of my isle to look around the corner to make sure no violence was in the making.
At the moment I peered around the corner, I saw a mother standing over what appeared to be her six year old son sitting in a cart in front of her. At the precise moment that I saw them, I heard the mother scold as she was leaning over her cart facing her son, “Why do you say such stupid things? You’re just stupid. Do you know that? You’re stupid!”
I was in shock. I looked at the boy who seemed to be in deep despair. He had a poutish look on his face with his lower lip protruding. He looked as if he had heard the words before, but as before, they had made him feel awful again. As quickly as his mother’s words were spoken he hung his head, half in anger, half in utter dejection.
As I came fully around the corner the mother saw me, stood upright and smiled as if she both assumed and hoped I hadn’t heard. But I had. And though I had never met these people, I was instantly involved.
My first thoughts were cautionary, “This is none of your business Chris. You don’t need to say anything. Just walk on by as if you hadn’t heard. You don’t want to tangle with an angry and abusive mama!”
But another thought inside my head screamed, “No Chris. This is very much your business. This lady just verbally abused her son right in front of you. You can’t ignore it. You know you will never be able to live with yourself if you don’t do something. You will never see these people again and never have another chance to right this wrong. Remember the Levite and the Good Samaritan.”
Thought number two prevailed.
I walked up to the cart and leaned over. The boy lifted his shamed head, looked at me, and I said to him loud enough for his mother to hear, “Son, I just want you to know that you are not stupid. And don’t ever let anyone tell you that you are.”
The mother’s face went from smiling to disgust. She immediately wheeled her cart around and walked off in a brisk huff. As she rolled her shopping vehicle in the other direction with her back to me, her son leaned over the side of the cart and looked at me around his mother’s side with a big smile on his face as if to say, “Gee, thanks mister. My mom really needed that…and so did I.”
I regularly counsel adults who were told by their parents while growing up, things very similar to what I heard that day in the grocery store. Of those I counsel with emotional issues such as low self-esteem, anger, depression, sexual acting out, drug addiction, alcoholism, self-pity, low motivation, criminal activity, and a host of other issues; most have been damaged by parental behavior similar to that mom’s in the toy isle that day. It is all too common in counseling. And these counselees have battled their issues for a lifetime.
It is my experience that the psyche of a child is among the most fragile elements of the human condition. We must treat them with tender, loving, godly care. Paul said in Ephesians 6:4, “Parents (literally fathers) do not provoke you children to anger but bring them up in the nurture and the admonition of the Lord.”