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A Story of Mercy for the “Challenging” Child

posted in: Confessing the Blessings, Storytellers | 1 |
Reading Time: 5 minutes

“I don’t think I’m going to heaven,” my eight-year-old son, Luke, told me one day. “I’m not good enough.”

by Becky Arganbright


“I don’t think I’m going to heaven,” my eight- year-old son, Luke, told me one day. “I’m not good enough.”

“Typical Luke,” I thought; he tends to hold everything inside and then dump it all out on you at the least expected moments. I was surprised to hear this declaration and yet, because it was Luke, I wasn’t. I had a feeling there was more to come, so I waited.

“I’m always in trouble,” he began, listing things off one by one. “I never listen. I’m always getting yelled at. I like to tease. I love God but prayer is boring.”

I had been nodding my head in agreement to everything he was saying before I caught myself. Well, I couldn’t help it. What Luke said was true. He was our “challenging child.” It took more than the usual correction to get through to Luke, and it didn’t help that his ADHD made everything even more complicated. But he is a good boy. He has his challenges, but also his gifts. He has a very loving heart that watches out for others, even though it sometimes comes off in a bossy and domineering way.

This was not the first time that Luke had brought up the fear that he was not “good enough” for heaven. With this worry came the fear that he was unlovable to God. This concerned me more than anything. I had always tried hard to let my children know how much God loves them, but with all the problems I’ve run into with Luke, I worried I may have not expressed this enough. Now I racked my brain to figure out how to get through to him once and for all.

“First of all, you are as ‘good enough’ for heaven as any of us,” I told him. “You have a chair with your name on it waiting in heaven for you. Secondly, of course you are lovable. Jesus died for you.”

Luke still didn’t look convinced. “I don’t think so.” he said. “I don’t see how He could.”

Suddenly, I was hit with an inspiration.

“Are you kidding?” I said, “It’s people like you and me that Jesus especially loves. Hey—have you ever heard the story of Zacchaeus? The man in the tree?”

Jesus has a soft spot for the “black sheep”

I’ve always felt in my heart that although Jesus loves everyone passionately, He has a special place in His heart for the “black sheep.” Why? Because no one really likes them. They don’t fit in. They tend to be obnoxious or have some trait that is difficult to live with. I should know. I too, was the “black sheep” in my own family.

Many children have a favorite Bible story. For many, it is Noah and his ark, or maybe it’s Adam and Eve. For me, it has always been Zacchaeus—or, as I’ve always called him, “the man in the tree.” (I could never pronounce his name, and still can’t!)

The story gave me much hope, because it convinced me that if Jesus could see and love a man like Zacchaeus, then he could see and love a person like me. Now, as I sat on Luke’s bed, retelling one of my favorite stories of the Bible; of the greedy little man that nobody liked who climbed a tree to see Jesus.

The “inner drive” of Zacchaeus

I had always been impressed that a wealthy and important man like Zacchaeus would climb a sycamore tree in order to see Jesus. It couldn’t have helped his reputation any with the town to see a grown man in a tree. But he didn’t let his “short stature” or status as a sinner stop him. That “inner drive” that compelled him to become a wealthy man paid off in also finding his greatest treasure ever. In his great desire to see Jesus, he wasn’t going to let anything get in his way, not his height, not a throng of people, not even a tree. You can’t help but admire someone like that.

Zacchaeus knew exactly who he was, but he did not allow that to stop him. And, it turned out that Zacchaeus was “a good egg” after all. The crowd didn’t know that, but Jesus did!

The crowd saw this and began to grumble, saying, “He has gone to stay at the house of a sinner.” But Zacchaeus stood there and said, “Behold, half of my possessions, Lord, I shall give to the poor, and if I have extorted anything from anyone I shall repay four times over.” And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house because this man too is a descendant of Abraham. For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save what was lost.”

Looking through the eyes of Jesus

Jesus did not see Zacchaeus the way the townspeople saw him; he saw him for who he could become. He did not just see his sins but he saw the great longing to be loved. He did not just see a ridiculous man in a tree; he saw a man who was so passionate to catch a glimpse of Him that he would overcome any obstacle.

And so it is with all of us, and especially the “challenging child.” The story of Zacchaeus reminds me often not to judge Luke based solely on his behavior, but to look a little deeper at the person God created him to be. To remember that this strong will of his that gets him into so much trouble now could one day become his greatest gift in being a strong Christian.

I have to remember not love him as I love him, but to love him the way Jesus loves him. To look at him as God looks at him. It takes patience and love, and I’ll admit it—a lot of prayer and hard work.

I tucked Luke into bed that night reminding him of Jesus’s great love for him, and my love too. That he is unique, special and precious in God’s eyes—just like Zacchaeus.

“Why did Jesus love Zacchaeus so much?” Luke asked sleepily.

“Because He understood him even when others didn’t. And that made Zacchaeus feel very, very special. Don’t ever give into the lie that you are not loved, Luke. He died so that you would sit next to Him in heaven.”

As I tiptoed out of the room, I reflected that one day, the natural impulsiveness and passion that make Luke “difficult” to others will someday cause him to find his own sycamore tree as he seeks after Jesus.

And Jesus will say, “Luke! Come down, for I am staying with you today!”

You never know…those “challenging children” do the most amazing things.

Follow Jerry Windley-Daoust:

Publisher, Gracewatch Media

Jerry Windley-Daoust is a writer, editor, and father of five. He writes essays and stories at Windhovering and is the show-runner for Gracewatch Media, a small Catholic publisher. You can follow his latest publishing projects at gracewatch.org.

  1. mmstangerbus@comcast.net'
    | Reply

    Beautiful! I have a Luke, too – literally and figuratively.

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