It happened Labor Day morning. My wife and I were getting the boys fed and ready to head out the door to hit the gym. Even a day later, I truly don’t even recall what she said to get under my skin. It must have been something miniscule, but each comment seemed to jab at me enough to where I jabbed right back at her. She hadn’t intended to get under my skin. It just happened! I took a few comments the wrong way and let loose on her with a few of my own. Every snarky comeback I held inside me was a sword slashing back at my wife. By the end of our little dispute, I had stonewalled her, telling her I just needed time away–otherwise I’d be saying something I really regretted. By the way, for all you men out there, stonewalling gets you nowhere with your spouse!
Ever been there before? Nah, I can hear you saying. My relationship with my spouse is all rainbows and butterflies! I never get into it with my spouse! (That was sarcasm if you didn’t detect it yet.) What burned at me the most after I retreated to the laptop across the way was when I analyzed the situation from God’s perspective in my head. My fingers were clicking away at my online banking account, but my mind was stuck on our church’s August memory verse: “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13: 34-35). Talk about a slap upside the head! I was dumbfounded.
You see, Christ’s definition of love is unconditional. You’ll notice He doesn’t make any exceptions. He doesn’t say love only when you are loved. He asks us to love all the time, no matter what the condition. He modeled this for us through His actions countless times before His crucifixion. One of Christ’s biggest acts of unconditional love was when his beloved disciple Peter turned his back on Christ. Peter denied Jesus not once, not twice, but THREE times in a row. Wouldn’t the typical human being cut Peter off by that point? If Christ was burning with the same reaction that we might elicit, He’d be saying something like, “Be gone!” Or to put it the way someone today might say it, “Get the heck away from me!”
But Christ is bigger than the hurt that overwhelmed Him. He’s bigger than the words of hate that could have exploded from His mouth. Instead He chose to forgive Peter and let him become one of the biggest assets to spreading the word of the gospel. As a matter of fact in 1 Peter 4: 8 Peter gives us the same lesson that Christ exemplified above when he says, “Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.” Isn’t that the truth? It just feels right to reach out to others in love, even when they wrong you. You are being the bigger person when you do this. Our human flesh may scream to retaliate, but the prevailing force in this fight should be the Holy Spirit’s power of unconditional love and forgiveness.
Now, let’s connect the dots to our profession … students have been known to push buttons. Ever have the kid in your class that laughs at your attempt to discipline? Ever have the kid that outright defies you just for the fun of it? Or what about the kid that sees you explode in anger and hides their face in their hands, laughing at your temperament? Yeah, I’d say we’ve been there more than a few times. Before you make a fool of yourself in front of 25 youthful faces, it would be wise to take a deep breath and remember the above scripture from Peter and Jesus. How I wish I could have told myself this lesson a few times in my past before I made an absolute fool of myself! I by no means am exempt from its message, and believe me the temptation of anger, resentment–dare I say retaliation–is still present in every episode.
As Christian teachers, however, if we are truly followers of Christ, we will model for our students what love and forgiveness are. Grudges may be difficult to let go of, but the moment you do a feeling of liberation overwhelms the soul. I am reminded of a young lady who plagiarized her book report summary last spring. She took the easy road, I caught her, and the trusting relationship we had built up to that point was shattered. This girl was at the time going through the process of becoming a Web leader in our building, an 8th grade mentor to the new 6th graders the following year. I could have blackmailed her by going to the Web coordinators, but I saw that young lady’s potential. I saw that she was truly sorry for what she did, and I know she learned the harshest lesson known to man: the lesson of learning from one’s own mistakes.
Every day those faces are looking back at you, soaking in your every word, your every reaction. As public educators we cannot cite scripture, however, we can model Christianity through our own actions. A student is more likely to show that same unconditional love and forgiveness if you epitomize it through your actions. Students look up to their respected adult mentors. These kids may only pass through my class for 49 minutes a day, but for those 49 minutes I hope I can point them toward the One who modeled love better than anyone ever has. Laws forbid us from taking these students by the hand to lead them to Christ, but a general nudge in the right direction can be seen in how we conduct ourselves. How will you be conducting yourself the next time Johnny Misbehavior steps into your classroom? Because students like Johnny are who need our love the most.