It was my first week at school in a very hot building, with over one hundred twenty new names to learn and a crazy new schedule with six different duty periods to keep straight. There was almost no time provided during in-service days to adequately set up and prepare for the year. My brain is full already after only a few days. Immediately after the first day of school, over one hundred and twenty summer reading tests needed grading. For those who turned in their summer reading notes, grading will be needed for them also. This doesn’t include any of my responsibilities at home. It’s a lot to juggle.
I have to love genuinely. It’s the call of the Christian life – a task I’m not always up for.
Things I never thought about as a teenager are prevalent realities in the lives of many of my students today. They are walking the hallways with so many issues. Some are from broken families. Some are pressured to excel and go to college, though they don’t want to. Some are struggling with addiction – to drugs, alcohol, technology, you name it. Some are navigating a world in which gender and sexuality are confusing to them. Some are battling anxiety and depression. Some just don’t feel they have direction or purpose in this world. There are so many faces with so many stories.
In addition to the academic and clerical functions of the teaching profession, I have the critical function of human relations representative. I have a student who needs to leave class early because her anxiety makes it difficult to navigate crowded hallways. She wants me to know she has a pass for that. There’s the girl who is a special education student on the autism spectrum who has endless questions and worries about the class, the content, the calendar. She says that she doesn’t want to be treated as “special” and wants to be normal but finds it difficult not to worry about English class. There’s the sweet child who asks me to step into the hallway to tell me that he/she is transgender and would like to be addressed by a different name. There are many needs, and many more that I am not even aware of yet.
My response to all this must be love. I assure each one of these children, and others also, that they can approach me and can find safe haven within the four walls of my classroom. I don’t understand all these concerns. That doesn’t matter. When I prayed this summer for God to equip and enable me to meet the needs of my students, these are the kids I prayed for. I just didn’t know their names. I could become frustrated, judgmental or even cavalier about all the demands and special requests. But that’s not what Jesus did. Those who sought His healing, kindness and mercy always found it. Plus, He was way busier with many more concerns than I have.
I can recall a time in my life when I wouldn’t have had patience for all these things I didn’t understand. I would have had a judgmental attitude or brushed off the pain and concerns of others. I would have been pretty well wrapped up in my own concerns. It isn’t easy to admit this. However, the grip of God’s grace around my heart opened my eyes to the great responsibility I have. Being right, or self-righteous for that matter, doesn’t win hearts or influence the world for Jesus.
This passage from Romans 12:9-10 captures the heart of what I’m talking about.
Don’t just pretend to love others. Really love them. Hate what is wrong. Hold tightly to what is good. Love each other with genuine affection, and take delight in honoring each other. (NLT)
I’m tired. I had a rough week myself emotionally and physically. But God has placed me in the midst of a group of students that I was preordained by Him to teach this year. Many of them will be just fine. But some of these kids aren’t going to like me. Some aren’t going to listen to me. I’m sure some will even deliberately try to get on my nerves. It doesn’t matter. They’re mine for a year and for all their successes, imperfections, quirks and needs, I’m charged with doing whatever I can to teach and help them. I don’t think I’ve ever been more acutely aware of this than I am this year. It may be because I’ve had a difficult year myself since January due to a back injury. Perhaps I’ve grown up a little in the faith, or maybe I’ve come to realize just how broken and needy I am. Whatever the reason, I am choosing love as my answer to these kids. That love may be tender or tough, depending on the situation, but it will be love. Only with the help of Jesus Himself can I complete this task.
As I prepare to dig into ten months of non-stop demands from students, administrators and my personal life, I have to remember that I can’t just play at love. I have to love genuinely. It’s the call of the Christian life – a task I’m not always up for. So I must wake daily and make the decision anew before going out into the world. Only by seeking the hand of God in my life can I hope to do what needs doing. And I will.