Up and down.
In the last week of school, I took a written survey of the 10th-11th grade students to get their input on how they felt chapel went this year. There were some students who remembered very specific lessons (and not even the most recent ones!) because of how those lessons impacted the way they thought. There were some who just said that everything was boring. Some even openly wrote that they never pay attention because chapel is always about Jesus, and they don't care about Jesus.
Up and down.
There were so many things that were fantastic about this school year, and there were also a lot of things that I felt I could have done better. There were also many frustrating things, and problems that were never solved. These are all normal things for a school year and for the reflections of a teacher, I think. But do you want to know the one thing that really hit me hard at the end of this school year, like it's never hit me before?
My students don't know what love is. They don't understand why I say the things I say. When I challenge them to look for truth in their lives, to seek it with all their hearts, to do what is right, to do everything in their power to encourage and lift up the people in their every day lives - they can't fathom the depth of feeling and meaning behind those words. Why? Because they don't know Christ. They don't have the Holy Spirit in their lives, sanctifying them and working within them to help them know that deeper meaning.
It's not like I've never realized that before, but at the end of this school year, something just clicked in my heart. I had some time where I think I was seeing my students straight through the eyes of the Father, and what I saw made me so sad. They don't understand what they're missing, and they don't even know they're missing something because their hearts are closed off to it. There was one day where I went home and cried - just cried, by myself - because of this realization.
When unbelief has a face (or 43 of them), and you've got a personalized relationship with that face - it brings a whole new meaning to the ideas of "going" and "preaching the gospel" and a whole lot of other phrases and sayings that we as Christians tend to throw around. There is real urgency and passion behind phrases like that, and a lot of times in our pretty easy and complacent lives, we lose sight of that. Even I do, and I've already gone to the trouble of moving to a different country.
Let me take a moment to throw some scripture your way before I continue my reflections. Please don't skip it. I'm writing it down so you don't even have to look up the reference!
18 For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 19 For it is written:
“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise;
the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.”
the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.”
20 Where is the wise person? Where is the teacher of the law? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21 For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. 22 Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, 23 but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, 24 but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.26 Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. 27 But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. 28 God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, 29 so that no one may boast before him. 30 It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. 31 Therefore, as it is written: “Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.”
-- 1 Corinthians 1:18-31
I love this passage. As a foreigner in a country where I don't speak the language, I spend a lot of my time trying not to look like a fool. I don't understand most cultural references. Sometimes I'll say something in Thai, and people just laugh at me, and I honestly have no idea why. Without intending to, I look like a fool a lot.
The above passage isn't talking about looking like a fool in a culture, though, it's talking about being true to what God has called us to do: preach the gospel. What an amazing thought - God uses the foolish, the weak, the things that we don't think are important. All of the above certainly apply in my experience. There are a lot of things in my life that, if I really sat down to think about them, seem really foolish to me.
I teach teenagers. This, first and foremost, baffles me. Still. Five years ago, if you had asked me if I wanted to be a high school teacher, or work with teenagers in any way, shape, or form, I would have replied with an emphatic NO, and probably laughed in your face. Teenagers scared me. I hated high school. Why in the world would I become a high school teacher? Yet, here I am, five years later, writing a blog post about how I have cried out of love and desperation for the teenagers that I teach. They are my life; they are my passion.
Every year, I have a certain feeling of fear in my heart for what a new school year will bring. What drama? What conflict? How can I love my homeroom class when they're so clique-y and moody and difficult to understand and different from any other group I've ever taught? Yet, every year, I find that I have deeper love in my heart for these clique-y, moody, and incomprehensible teens. This love is not something that comes from me. I didn't even like teenagers, remember? It is only the power of Christ through me that allows me to have this fathomless love for them.
Here's another one: in one chapel that I got to lead this year, I talked about sex. Ha! Me! I remember one time when I was in middle school and one of my teachers talked about sex in chapel - I felt horrified and embarrassed and scarred for life. When I got older, I generally felt uncomfortable when the topic of sex came up in a conversation. Even right now, writing the word "sex" on my blog makes me mildly uncomfortable. Why should I be the person to address such a topic with a group of teenagers? Simply put: I felt the Spirit leading me in that direction, giving me the thoughts and words and connections to make as well as the ideas of how to approach the topic with the students. Me. Really. That chapel turned into something that led to other conversations later. Maybe it changed one student's way of thinking.
"For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe."
My students do not understand this foolishness. Why would a God who created everything give up everything to be connected to the broken people he made? How can believing in this unseen God change a life, practically speaking? How can God become human? Why would he? Resurrection - seriously? How can God be so good if the world is so bad? Why is there pain and confusion and death? The list of questions can go on.
Here's what I know, friends. Nothing that happened during this school year happened because I wanted it to. None of the love that I have for my students is of my own doing. None of the relationships I have built with these kids have grown because I'm good at building relationships or because I'm good at relating to teenagers.
All I can say is that God has been here. Despite my failings and my disbelief in the possibility of any of my students coming to Christ, God has worked. He has pulled at the strings of some of their hearts. He has shown them his love, over and over again, through the hands, feet, actions, and words of their teachers. He is God, and although it may seem foolish to me at times, he does the things that only God can do.
Please pray, friends. And don't give up opportunities based on the argument that they don't make sense. Foolishness and weakness are not excuses. Use every opportunity that you get to bring love and peace into the lives of the people around you.