There are many days when I feel impatient with my kids–like the thousandth time I have reminded them to put their names on their papers and am still faced with the inevitable task of handwriting scrutiny to determine the authorship of six random papers. Today, I badly wanted to chastise them (“How many times have I told you??”) but this thought always occurred to me–how many times have I done that to God? How many times has He corrected me with loving-kindness only for me to turn around and make the exact same mistakes over and over again, sometimes even willfully! What if Jesus treated us that way: “This is the last time I’m going to tell you to do this. Next time, forget it, I’m not helping you. Don’t come crying to me when the consequences fly in your face.” His patience is endless, and that is how He calls us to be.
His grace is the model for how we are to treat others–rendering favour when we don’t have to and changing our focus from giving students what they ‘deserve’ to seeing them how God sees them. That doesn’t mean there are no consequences–God is a just God (Isaiah 30:18), He is a God of order and not of chaos (1 Corinthians 14:33), and He speaks repeatedly in His word about how children must be taught obedience and respect (Proverbs 22:6, 22:15, 23:13, 29:15, Ephesians 6:1, Colossians 3:20). But our place is not to condemn and criticise, it is to lift up our students. When I deal with a particularly challenging student or parent, rather than saying, “This kid doesn’t care, his parents don’t care, I give up, I’m not dealing with it anymore”, I try to pray for them instead, that God would work through me to bring positive change. That’s really hard to do sometimes and I end up praying for my own attitude to change more than anything!
The books of Ephesians and Galatians always remind me of the character God wants me to have (all scripture in the New King James Version):
Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. (Ephesians 4:29)
Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. (Ephesians 4:32)
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. (Galatians 5:22-23, italics added)
These are the attributes God calls Christians to show, and I know that He would especially want us to demonstrate those qualities towards the precious little ones in our care. We are to love them unconditionally, have joy in our work, let the peace we have inside show on the outside, be patient with others’ shortcomings, model kindness and goodness, be gentle with our words, and have self-control when we are tempted to make harsh or rash decisions. What a calling! And how wonderful that we can call upon Him for help when these things seem too difficult to manage.
We should also keep in mind that the Bible tells us: Not many of you should presume to be teachers, my brothers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly. (James 3:1) I personally believe that this verse applies not only to teachers of the word of God but also to anyone in a position to dispel knowledge to others in a formalized setting. In other words, those of us who are pillars in the community, whose lives are on display in front of impressionable young people, who mold the attitudes and priorities of children and are responsible for teaching them truth and wisdom–we are held to a higher standard by God.
Our influence on students cannot be overestimated. Don’t we all remember a horrible teacher from our childhood who embarrassed us or made us feel like we were worth nothing? And doesn’t each of us recall a fabulous teacher who inspired and encouraged us? What a powerful impression these teachers made, for good or for bad–we still remember them far into our adult years. As educators, we have an awesome responsibility and privilege set before us and we are called to take it on with grace and wisdom.
We have the privilege and obligation before God to demonstrate the fruit of the Spirit when working with our students, their parents, and our co-workers. We are called to work as unto the Lord, not as unto man, and strive to do everything with excellence. Other people should be able to tell through our actions that something about us is different.