I am a daughter, a sister, a friend, a wife, a mom, an aunt, and most importantly- a daughter of the King of kings. Just like every woman, I wear any number of relational hats in any given day. For me, in this present season of my life, another unique hat I get to wear is that of a teacher. If I’m honest, the privilege and responsibility of that role was lost on me, due to my pride, for a good while.
You see, I completed three quarters of my teaching courses in college before I “jumped ship” into a potential career track where I felt I could ACTUALLY make a difference in this world. I think God laughed that day! It wasn’t that my own teachers hadn’t made a difference in my life (I never had a teacher I didn’t adore), or that I felt my Mom or Grandma (who were teachers) had failed to make a difference, or even that I doubted Bart (my husband-to-be) would change the world as a teacher. In my mind, it was just too constricting for me- too many standards, too much teaching to a test, too much robotic methodology, & clearly no room for God to be God in a classroom. Boy was I wrong!! It just took me awhile to become humble enough to learn that teaching is more about maintaining the posture of a student, with the God of all creation as your constant Mentor and Teacher.
I had watched Bart do it for many years- mold, shape, and influence lives for their good and God’s glory. It was inspiring to me to talk with his students and/or read notes or cards they had written him and see what a difference his life had made in the course of theirs. However, when I returned to the classroom after seven years as a stay-at-home-mom, it sure didn’t seem as glamorous. In fact, it was downright HARD at times: exhausting, depleting, sometimes even depressing. Even as close as I had been to the profession as a wife of a teacher and Mom of a student, I quickly realized that my perspective as an “outsider” was vastly different than the daily experience as an “insider”. And so, it was after coming face to face with these insurmountable difficulties as a teacher that pride gave way to humility and this teacher learned how to be a student again.
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
It doesn’t take long, as a teacher, to come face to face with the depravity of man. Yes, there is beauty and hope and life all around (I will get to that later), but sometimes it can feel like the the darkness and brokenness surrounding you and threatening to pull you in is utterly inescapable. Now, I have no idea when Jesus will return (nor do I think anyone will know), but I do think these words of Paul sure do fit the reality of what we see as educators and people of planet earth:
“But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive,disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God— having a form of godliness but denying its power.”
~2 Timothy 3:1-5~
I so often see one of two reactions to this reality. On one end of the spectrum, we get angry, fearful, and hopeless- eventually looking for a plan or path to escape from the raw exposure to the brokenness. On the other end of the spectrum, many of those who stick it out become utterly exhausted, cynical, joyless, and secretly counting down the days until the weekend, summer break, or retirement. And if I’m being brutally honest, on some of my hardest days, I have swung all over that spectrum.
I have been so depleted and worn out from the depth, width, length, and breadth of the impossible needs around me, that I would start to wonder what other job I might be able to do that would allow me to actually be fruitful and make a measurable difference. Or I might wonder what other profession might provide better earthly payment equivalent to the stress- either by paycheck or even by worldly acknowledgement, awards, or vertical movement.
It was in this place, of striving so hard to meet these desperate, endless needs, but always coming up short, that I finally became brave enough to admit what I probably already knew: I am not enough! But God is.
He knows it’s hard and He calls His people to DO HARD THINGS. He’s not blind to the needs. He sees all of them, individually and collectively, down to their very root. And He is the only one with the lasting solutions. My job is not to muster up “enough” everyday, but to take the very little I do have each day and offer it up to Him. Just like the little boy who gave Jesus his basket full of 5 loaves and two fish. All He expects me to do is to be like that little boy- humbly offer my meager, daily (sometimes moment by moment) offering that is clearly “not enough” to feed the crowds what they need; and then watch Him do what He does best- miraculously multiply the offering into what is truly needed for the day (“Give us each day our daily bread” Luke 11:3).
The beauty of Jesus, the Stream of Living Water, providing the sufficiency is that, as His servant and disciple, rather than not having anything left in the tank at the end of the day for my personal needs, He is always faithful to provide a basket full of exactly what I need.
“Another of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, spoke up, “Here is a boy with five small barley loaves and two small fish, but how far will they go among so many?” Jesus said, “Have the people sit down.” There was plenty of grass in that place, and they sat down (about five thousand men were there). Jesus then took the loaves, gave thanks, and distributed to those who were seated as much as they wanted. He did the same with the fish. When they had all had enough to eat, he said to his disciples, “Gather the pieces that are left over. Let nothing be wasted.” So they gathered them and filled twelve baskets with the pieces of the five barley loaves left over by those who had eaten.”
Another lesson my Teacher began to open my eyes to in the midst of teaching some of the most challenging kids was my own soul amnesia. In the midst of defiance, disrespect, and pouring out into the lives of indescribably broken souls I would forget why I do what I do and I would forget who I once was.
In the face of the HARDEST moments, my frustrations with students who are being temporarily unbearable (although temporary can be relative) can make me blind to the reality that these young souls are image bearers of God, broken as that reflection is sometimes, and they have a soul that is immortal. They may be causing me untold irritation, causing my own “lack” to rise up within me, but first and foremost, He has called me to this: to be a jar of clay filled with His light and shining into the darkest of places.
“But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may also be revealed in our mortal body. So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you.“
~2 Corinthians 4:7-12~
We who have been saved are also so prone to forget that we were once slaves to sin, alienated from God, and destined for wrath. And in those moments of forgetting, its so tempting to grow prideful and frustrated with people rather than reflecting the love and grace that our Heavenly Father has freely granted to us.
“But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions...For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.“
~ Ephesians 2:4-6, 8-10~
And in our role as teachers, we have ample opportunity every single day to be His handiwork among lost, eternal souls. When we focus on how undeserving we are of the grace we have received through the cross, it is so much more natural to respond to the impossibly HARD moments with His grace:
“Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful.”
Sometimes, He has shown me, that He will reveal the hard places kids & families have been through simply to teach me how to pray for them. What a glorious privilege it is to potentially be the ONLY person on the planet who might be crying out to God on behalf of a student or a family in need. And, to think, I used to believe there was no room for God in a classroom. He is there, in all of His glory, to the extent to which His people call upon His name.
Another pitfall the Teacher began to reveal to me was the inward battle for earthly compensation: be it financial, a sincere pat on the back, acknowledgement, or even a break- my earthly mindset was crying out for something! But He has taught me to be thankful that this is not how our educational system is currently set up. And since it isn’t, I was able to learn some precious lessons that will mark me forever.
First of all, many of the tasks of an educator are LARGELY unseen by the eyes of the masses. And so, since it is unseen by all eyes except God’s, I began to learn how to do my job for His approval alone and not the world’s notice. What freedom, what joy, and what a blessing to live out of that place.
“Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward.”
And so, I began to hunger and thirst for these rewards from the Eternal God more than the fleeting approval of man and earthly compensation. Isn’t it typical, that this God of the Upside Down Kingdom prefers gracious deeds done in secret rather than tooting our own horn via social media?
“But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”
And finally, I began to see what a privilege it is to have the daily opportunity to pour time, energy, grace, patience, love, kindness, gentleness, and prayers on many kids’ lives, who may never even show gratitude in the least- and who will be the least likely to ever pay me back. The world around make shake their head and think, “What a waste of an investment!” or, “How foolish to give your life away in such a way!” But just knowing Jesus sees, smiles, and stores up eternal treasures is more than I could ever ask. In fact, my Teacher began to teach me to envision giving myself away each day to Him who was masked in the faces of the “least of these” who the rest of society would consider unworthy.
“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.
“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’
“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’”
I often wonder how long God will allow me the privilege to teach. It’s not for the faint of heart- that’s for sure- and if you honestly ask any school personnel about the challenges, you might get an earful. But how I pray God would spark a revolution of teachers who see their jobs as a calling with opportunities for eternal investment and rich heavenly rewards.
Everyday it seems the gap grows wider between the those of us who are privileged with many of the things we take for granted- access to know God, warm homes, loving families to come home to, bellies full of food, clean water, endless opportunities for entertainment and growth- and those who will never know those earthly privileges. For now, the thing I probably love most about my job is the constant, humble reminder it gives me that I have been entrusted with SO much and so I am called to scandalously pour out what I’ve been given. I don’t want to be caught as a hoarder in this life.
“From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.”
Doing hard things with hard people is good for us. I think we are most like Jesus as we learn to walk into those places without fear and without a calloused heart. When we take His yoke and learn from the Greatest Teacher- the One who came to earth to show us the Way- I truly believe we will see our own lives turn into vessels of healing, light, and freedom for the captives all around us. What a glorious hope and a glorious calling! And maybe, just maybe, as we offer our lives to “the least of these” we will not only be rewarded in heaven, but will experience life abundantly and healing in ways we didn’t even know we needed.
“If you do away with the yoke of oppression,
with the pointing finger and malicious talk,
and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry
and satisfy the needs of the oppressed,
then your light will rise in the darkness,
and your night will become like the noonday.
The Lord will guide you always;
he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land
and will strengthen your frame.
You will be like a well-watered garden,
like a spring whose waters never fail.
Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins
and will raise up the age-old foundations;
you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls,
Restorer of Streets with Dwellings.”