I find that as a fifth grade teacher and as the father of a three-year old and a seven-year old, I am often at odds with myself with regards to my divergent tendencies to want to be loose and care free and my knowledge of the fact that clear guidelines, expectations, and procedures consistently maintained is often a major ingredient in maintaining a productive classroom and, hopefully, loving, well-raised kids. I sometimes second-guess myself when I’ve followed through with administering a consequence and end up with a dejected fifth grader or a crying toddler on my hands. This is largely because I know that every single interaction that I have with a student or my own children is one more step in forming their perception of the world around them and of myself. It is my prayer that, as I’ve seen in many students of mine over the past eleven years of teaching, the structured environment that I provide is the firm foundation that the children that I interact with need to feel safe in applying themselves toward making good decisions and finding success.
But, I also know that some kids, due to various circumstance sometimes within and sometimes outside of my control, just aren’t going to respond regardless of my attempts to redirect and guide them in the right direction. In such cases it must, then, be my prayer that I have spoken enough affirming words and put forth enough good will toward them that, by the time my role as a teacher or a parent has wound down, they come out on the other side having benefitted by my presence in each of their lives.
It should also be recognized that such a goal would apply to my interactions with other adults as well. Too often my mood, my self-centered focus on what is most convenient for me, and my sheer laziness lead me to belittle others around me by either the way I talk to them or by the indifference displayed in my activities while around them and these are surely not the signs of someone who has been given the gift of grace. It when I turn toward myself at various times throughout each and every day that I, simultaneously, end up turning my back on others and on the Abba that didn’t turn His back on me. Forgive me Abba, and help me to grow, I pray.
Jesus says to us: “Either you give life to others in your relationships with them, or you drain them of it.” Life can be taken out of others in rivulets and drops, in the small daily failures of inattention, that bitterest fruit of self-absorption, as surely as by the terrible strokes to their hearts.
Writes Frederick Buechner: “Sin sprouts, as banana trees on the Nile, whenever the effect of your relationships with others is to diminish rather than enlarge them. There is no neutral corner in your human encounters, no antiseptic arena in which ‘nobody else is hurt’ or ‘nobody else knows about it.’ You either make people a little better, or leave them a little worse. You define your faith and moral posture in the ordinary stuff of your daily routine. The Kingdom belongs to those, as artless as children, who love others simply and directly, without thinking about anything but them. The inheritors of the Promise are those unsung folks who lend others a hand when they’re falling. That’s the only work that matters in the end.”
-Brennan Manning, from Devotions For Ragamuffins, Pp.117