How One Key Opened the Door to a Young Man's World
by Rev. Brad Dokken
“You are going to have problems with Jake. He doesn’t like to cooperate.”
This was how I was introduced to an incoming confirmation student by a well-meaning individual who had taught him in Sunday School and had seen him around town.
What I heard from them wasn’t news to me, Jake’s mother had warned me that he was more challenging than her other kids, but that he was a good kid overall. "Take your time with him," she suggested.
Jake lived up to the reputation that I was given; for almost the whole first year in confirmation he sat with his arms folded, not engaging with the class at all. He seemed like he was in his own world.
I had challenging students before but no one quite like Jake. I used different approaches that had worked before with others, but Jake was like an iron-clad safe—I just couldn’t get him to engage with me one-on-one or with the class.
Yes and no answers became a "good" session. Almost weekly his mom would apologize and tell me that he wasn’t like this at home.
Then one day I was having a conversation with a teacher from the school about one of Jake’s siblings and the teacher asked me about Jake, and how he was doing. I told them the struggle I was having and they looked at me and said, “Have you talked to him about farming? If you can get him to talk farming you are in!”
I had tried everything else, so it was worth a shot. The next time I saw Jake I started off like I normally did, but then asked him if he liked red or green tractors.
He looked at me for a moment in surprise and then said, “John Deere.”
From then on I asked him more about tractors; it was like putting the one, magic key in a lock after having tried dozens of others on the key ring with no success. After that, anytime I saw Jake I would have a new fact or questions about farming or farm machinery and he would open up. I finally had the connection that I desired.
The next step was to get him into the Bible and see that there were many examples of farming in scripture—it all led to more conversation. What I discovered was a young man with a good sense of humor and a desire to participate when he felt he had something to add.
My guess is, up to that point, he didn’t feel like he could contribute to the conversation. So he stayed quiet rather than look foolish in front of his friends. Once he realized his perspective mattered, he was willing to talk not only to me but also in front of others.
I am thankful for the lessons that Jake taught me and I am thankful for that teacher who took the time to get to know him.
Without her opening the door for me and sharing her insight I would have never gotten to know a special young man who has great ideas to share.
Narratology™ is the new confirmation program with a section for special needs kids. Clergy Stuff has released this program for purchase now. Click here for more information about special needs and confirmation.
Rev. Brad Dokken serves as an ordained ELCA minister in rural Wisconsin. He enjoys performing in theater and is a Vikings football fan. One of his favorite quotes is, “Love isn't finding a perfect person. It's seeing an imperfect person perfectly.” - Sam Keen