Unfortunately, whether due to spring or the fact that they were tired from an extra group session the day before or who knows what, they were very hyper and could only follow my directions for a few seconds before they broke our group rules for the use of that space. After several minutes and numerous prompts, I told the boys that I would have to take them somewhere else because they were not respecting the rules, the site, and the other children playing. "Let's go to a park!" one boy said. My first thought was, "There's no way I'm taking you to a park right now; it will seem like a reward for your bad behavior."
Fortunately, I reflected on my decision. The boys were not acting hyper or breaking the rules in order to be defiant; they simply were too wound up for an enclosed space. At a park, they could run and yell and, hopefully, use up some energy.
So we went to the park. The boys asked if they could visit the lake first and throw stones in it as they had done before. I said yes, just don't go IN the lake. I prepared myself for wet boys, or, at the very least, sopping wet shoes. But they followed my direction. They worked with each other to lift and throw the biggest rocks they could find to make ever-bigger splashes. As I learned in my special education training, heavy work is a great way to help excited kids calm down. When I said it was time to go to the playground area, the boys ran the 50+ yards to the equipment, joined a few other kids in their games, and played their hearts out. They were fine. When I said it was time to go home, they ran to the car.
I was reminded of something God taught me with these boys a few weeks earlier. I'd taken them to a labyrinth at a local convent. I thought the boys would enjoy walking the winding path.
But the boys did not want to walk the path, they wanted to run it and race each other to the center and out again. At first I tried to stop them and make them walk without racing. Then I sensed God's response: "They're 6-year-old boys, not octogenarian nuns. Let them experience the path in their own way." I feared at least one of those nuns would come out and yell at us to stop, but that fear was as unfounded as my fear of having to deal with sopping wet boys.
We had a bit of extra time when we left the park the other day, and one of the boys asked if we could go to "that place that winds around and around and you have to stay on the path and not step in the hot lava (outside the path)." Once I figured out what he meant, we went. As we were approaching the site, the boy called out excitedly, "I see it! There it is!" This time I gave the boys no directions and watched to see what they would do. I was amazed. The boys ran, but they ran silently, without speaking or racing. For several minutes all I heard was the thump, thump, thump of their shoes hitting the bricks. Their approach to the labyrinth had changed, without me ever telling them that I use it as a time for reflection and communion with God.
When we let others be who they are, rather than who we want to mold them to be, true life bursts forth and wonderful things can happen. I am so thankful God shut me up that day.