Dealing With Absences

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Core scripture“Finally, all of you should be of one mind. Sympathize with each other. Love each other as brothers and sisters.  Be tenderhearted, and keep a humble attitude” (1 Peter 3:8).

Message: Have you ever been to a different country?  My wife and I honeymooned in Jamaica back in March of 2008.  The Sandals resort at Ocho Rios was breathtaking.  The landscaping was immaculate, trimmed to perfection.  The beaches beckoned us as clear blue waves lapped our feet.  Our hotel, lavish and fancy, had servants at every corner ready to accommodate us.  One day, however, my wife and I decided to take a bus ride through the city to hike up Dunns River Falls, a gorgeous, never-ending waterfall.

The half hour trip through the city was humbling.  My eyes were glued to the streets.  They were dirty, overwhelmed with poverty.  Beggars sat on street corners, pleading for anything to get them by.  Their shacks, some smaller than my hotel kitchen, lined the outskirts of the filthy roads.  They looked at us with wishful eyes.  And there we were, about 30 clean cut tourists, staring out the windows as if they were animals in a zoo.  One couldn’t help but feel agony for them.  The moment we departed the bus, we were swarmed by a gantlet of locals, all seeking any handout they could find.

Have you ever experienced something like that?  It is quite humbling.  It makes you feel privileged.  Lucky.  And suddenly the blessings that God heaps on you are colorfully brought to life, vibrant and dazzling to see.  It makes me wonder … if I were to walk into some of my students’ homes, would I experience something similar?  How many siblings would be milling about?  How many ashtrays?  Would there be beer bottles strewn about?  Would the house reek of marijuana?  Would the poor kid’s bedroom be shared with five other siblings?  Taking a walk into some of these homes would certainly be quite the overwhelming experience.

I have noticed recently my attitude has been affected by chronically absent students.  I wonder where they are.  I ridicule them, poking fun at them behind their backs with colleagues.  They are on the every-other-day plan.  Oh, wow!  He showed up today!  Do you really think you are excused from all that makeup work?  Think again.  Guilty as charged, your honor.  I have no right to think those thoughts, yet still, they plague my mind.  I have no right to judge these kids on their lack of attendance when their families may very well have worries that make their schoolwork seem minuscule in importance.

Where is the sympathy?  Where is the love?  The humility?  The grace?  I should welcome these students into my class with open arms and check in with them.  I should inquire politely about what is going on at home.  If they have been gone for an extended period of time, I should consider lightening their homework load.  Maybe write them an encouraging note.  At the very least, I should tell them we missed them.  A phone call to mom or dad, not to discuss makeup work but to sincerely check on the well-being of their son or daughter, might be in store.  I should do everything possible to make that kid WANT to attend my class.

Paul tenderly reminds us in 1 Corinthians 16:14, “Let all that you do be done in love.”  Cling to that thought, especially regarding our students that struggle to make it to school.  Show them the love and attention they so desperately need.  Sympathize with them.  If someone sarcastically says Oh, wow!  Johnny actually showed up today!, I should speak up and defend that kid.  Those kids hear you when you take up a battle for them.  Show them the love they deserve and crave so deeply.  You may very well become the reason they come back to school.

Challenge: Create an intentional moment to check in with a chronically absent student, not out of obligation but out of genuine sincerity for their well-being.

Song application: “You Are Loved” by Stars Go Dim

You are loved
If your heart’s in a thousand pieces
If you’re lost and you’re far from reason
Just look up; know you are loved
Just look up; and know you are loved
When it feels like something’s missing
If it hurts but you can’t find healing
Just look up, know you are loved
Just look up, know you are loved

Journal/Accountability: Write or talk to a trusted Christian friend about ways you can reach out to chronically absent students.

Quote: “I believe that the best advocates of a certain issue are the ones that fully understand both sides.” (Daniel Willey)

Bible story: Read Luke 15:11-32.  What word best describes the father’s reaction to his son coming home after being gone for so long?  How do we know the father forgives his son?  How does this analogy compare to God’s relationship with us?  As Christian teachers, how can we treat chronically absent students the same?

Prayer: Lord, soften my heart toward those students who struggle in making it to school every day.  Let me reach out to them and welcome them back when they return.  Amen.

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