So I have this one student.
She’s a PK (Preacher’s Kid). And lately she’s been displaying typical disrespect-for-authority Preacher’s-Kid-angst.
Now, I too am a PK, although I came to it late enough in life that I avoided a lot of the angst. So I get it.
Lately, though, she has been just over the top. Turns her back on me during class, looks at me sideways…. talks incessantly.
We took a test last week and she bombed it. She turned in an essay a few days later and bombed it. She turned in a sonnet a few days later and bombed that.
And I, being the mature Christian that I am…. was, if I am honest, secretly pleased. She was being so disrespectful in class – to the point where one day she actually spat into a bag of cookies one of the other students baked for me.
So by Monday night I was determined that when class rolled around Tuesday morning, I would not let her get away with any more disrespect. I had a hall pass at the ready so that the minute she started chatting or being disrespectful, I could send her straight to the principal.
And then I woke up Tuesday morning before my alarm went off, so I used the extra time to pray before I started getting ready. While I was praying, the thought occurred to me, out of the blue, that you can’t love someone if you don’t lay your life down for them.
Because if you say you love someone but you are not willing to put aside your own desires, agendas and preferences, then you are probably acting more out of self-interest than true love.
Now this all sounds very Scriptural and almost academic, and you can’t be around the church for very long without hearing this. So it’s not like it was really news to me. But somehow it hit home and a switch clicked in my brain and I really GOT it this time.
I didn’t connect it to this student at the time. I just realized that I needed to be willing to lay my life down for ALL of my students. Which meant if I had to be the bad guy instead of being their friend, then that would be love and I needed to be okay with that. Or if it meant erring on the side of grace, I was okay with that too. But I wouldn’t know the difference if I didn’t pray for them, so I started praying for them, and specifically asked the Lord to help me lay aside my own agenda and love them.
By the time I got to class, without any conscious thought on my part beyond that prayer, the whole “I’ll get her” attitude toward the one student, with the pass at the ready and the determination to not let her get away with anything, just kind of dissolved. Because while I could try to pass that off as good classroom management, I knew that the attitude behind it wasn’t really loving. It was more protecting myself and “winning” than loving.
Class started and she and I found ourselves connecting on a dietary restriction we both share. I found myself enjoying a little bit of kinship with her. And she in turn behaved pretty well in class.
Today rolled around and it’s the last class before Christmas break, so everyone is a little squirrelly, myself included. I wasn’t expecting much of anyone and just hoped I could at least get across to them what the homework assignment for the break entailed.
During class discussion, the topic of being a PK came up and she announced, “It’s the WORST!” I commiserated and told her how many times my mother was on the phone counseling women from church when I was a teen and wouldn’t listen to MY problems. And then she said, “Yes, and MY mom is on jury duty for three months.”
And it suddenly became clear. The acting out in class. The problems with homework assignments. She suddenly has no Mom at home during the day. This poor girl is largely on her own with all this for the first time in her life, and with her dad and three brothers in the house, she is probably being expected to fill Mom’s shoes a little.
I told her she could come over to my house any time she feels the need to drink a cup of tea and have someone hold her hand and tell her everything is going to be all right.
And I was so glad I hadn’t brought the hammer down on her. The bad grades on the last few assignments were enough, I think. She is taking on all the extra credit I’ll offer and reworking whatever I’ll permit her to rework.
I realized after class today that instead of annoyance or offense, I’m now feeling genuine concern and love for her.
I have to admit, this is a little mind-blowing for me. I didn’t have love modeled for me when I was growing up, so I’ve always wondered if I was doing it right. I swung the other way too far for many years, ending up in co-dependent and people-pleasing situations.
But now I think I might finally be on the right path. Laying down myself for others, just as Christ did for His Church. The difference between that and being a doormat, I finally see, is in inviting His Spirit into the equation and letting Him guide my actions.
Because my reactions this week to this particular student took even me by surprise. As much as I would like to take credit for figuring this love stuff out and making the adjustment, I can’t. There are times things like this play out as a change in understanding, and a conscious adjustment in action, but this wasn’t one of them. This was a bona fide work of the Holy Spirit in my heart
It wasn’t even what I would have thought would be the right thing to do. But once I had the rest of the information about her situation, I could see that the attitude I portrayed, almost in spite of myself, was exactly the one she needed.
Love is a fruit of the Spirit. I have tried for years to figure out how to be more loving, so to see love spring, almost unbidden, from my heart, is astounding. I mean, this changes everything.
If I don’t have to WILL myself to love people, if I don’t have to force myself to do nice things for people in the name of love when I would rather not – if I can just ask the Holy Spirit to change my heart and let Him work through me — well, that takes all the pressure off.
That means love is all about Him working in my life rather than about me doing a list of tasks.
Love rather than empty works.
Grace rather than law.
This is what His kingdom is all about.