I do not want to write this. Confessing it to myself resulted in cold sweats and a punch in the gut, but sharing it with others is mortifying. Bear with me. And please give me grace, an ironic request indeed. Stay with me as to why.
My son was wronged. Kicked in the family jewels in the locker room kind of wronged. It is possible that there was provocation, but I thought there was some sort of guy code that prohibited such violence. I was wrong. But then, middle school rules aren’t always real life rules, as anyone who has survived middle school, taught middle school, put a kid through middle school, or simply driven by a middle school can attest. When it comes to confrontation, I’m actually fairly composed, so I was calm and rational when I contacted the school. I mean it; I really was. I requested that action be taken, and it was, but not to my liking. I didn’t necessarily think a public hanging was imperative, but a possible mild public shaming would have made me feel better. Detention or suspension would have pacified me. But the stern “talking to” did not. Being an educator and a mom makes it harder to criticize the discipline choices of the administration, though, because teachers know there are three sides to every story, so my teacher “voice of reason” had to override the mama bear “voice of revenge.” Thus I chose to silently submit to the outcome, trusting that the educators that I admire and respect handled it the right way, but I confess that I was not happy. My frustration only intensified when my son enlightened me as to his role in the outcome. Apparently, he suggested to the perpetrator that they work it out. Work it out?? How could he possibly allow someone to demoralize him like that and then turn around and reestablish their friendship so quickly? My husband and I were so frustrated at how willing he was to forgive; we perceived his response to be too soft, too pushover-y. Why won’t he stand up for himself? Is he going to be this passive forever? Doesn’t he know that this will only happen again unless he fights back? My son offered forgiveness and reconciliation and I was mad. Isn’t it funny how the worldly response is rarely the heavenly response? I don’t think it’s any coincidence that God led me to the book of Matthew shortly thereafter.
You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
I proclaim my faith in all circles of life. I have my devotion to my God tattooed on my body. I have a bible study and a prayer group and a perfect attendance record at church and a stack of journals full of prayers, and yet I stubbornly pursed my lips and furrowed my brow at the thought of lifting up this perpetrator in prayer. While I was stomping my feet at my son’s seemingly passive approach to the conflict, he was loving his enemy. Ouch.
Despite my deep understanding of grace and forgiveness, I fail epically. And often. I purposefully withheld prayers for the offender. I prayed my heart out for the offended, mind you, but childishly and defiantly refused to pray for he who wounded my son’s body and spirit. Outright refused.
It took me four days to see it. If I’m being honest, I didn’t “see” it so much as God put it right in front of me. When I recovered from the gut punch, I asked myself some hard questions: Do I sometimes think that only nice people deserve my prayers? Do I treat our salvation and relationship with Christ as an exclusive club that only nice people are invited to? Sure, I want to extend to everyone an invitation to church, and I long for everyone to know the Jesus that I know. But is refusing to pray for someone who wronged my son a form of exclusivity? In my mind, is Jesus only for those who know how to treat others and be nice?
Countless times in my life I have extended kindness and grace to mean people. It’s just that…. Well, he’s my son. I get all weird when you mess with my kid. It took me four days to realize that my kid doesn’t need protecting, except maybe from me.
I’m grateful for the realization, despite how much it hurt my pride. Following the realization was action. So I hit my knees, asking for forgiveness. And then I prayed for the perp. Praying for that young man was an act of total surrender, and not one that I gleefully entered into. But it was - is - exactly what Jesus calls me to do.
And then, as all life lessons are structured to do, this one began to seep into other corners of my life. Cue more shame. My student Abraham* is mean. Specifically, he’s mean to me. Name-calling (And I’m not talking “poophead” names. I’m talking explicit lyric rapper names.) mean. Defiantly disrespectful mean. Wads up the paper when I hand it to him mean. And to my knowledge, my great offense is that I continue to encourage him to engage.
And so, I began to assess my strong desire for justice as it relates to my classroom:
Do I have students who can light my fuse with a glance?
Are there particular students in whom I’ve given up hope?
And here’s the hard one…. Do I take pleasure in punishment? Does marking red X’s across his paper give me a sense of joy? Is there contentment in the child’s failing grade or an office referral? A peaceful sense of justice?
I can answer yes to every question. And I’m the adult. Worse, I’m the Christian. Teachers are basically surrounded by the three types of students: the eager, kind and willing, the indifferent, and the defiant. And I confess that I often treated them as such. And then the words from the gospel of Matthew echo again in my heart:
If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven.
And so I will pray. “Father, forgive me of my trespasses…” God, I’m sorry for the thoughts of revenge and anger and bitterness I have had toward students who did not behave as I wanted them to behave. I understand that I will never understand the source of their anger or misbehavior, and I repent of the times that I have held their defiance against them. “As I forgive those who trespass against me…” God, help me to forgive kids when they hurt my feelings or when they anger me. Remind me every minute of every day that extending them forgiveness and grace is the best gift I can give them. Help me to remember that, regardless of their age, these students are babies, growing up in a tough world, where forgiveness and kindness and love are not always present. Help me to be those things in Your name. “and lead me not into temptation...” Tomorrow I will get angry and judgmental again. Save me from me. I confess that the earthly side of me is weak and shallow and, quite frankly, very sensitive. God, don’t let me be tempted to fight back. And protect me from my own temptation to ignore, lash out, or retaliate. “But deliver me from evil.” I know that Satan winces when I pray for those who persecute me. I know that he will do whatever it takes to put me back on the road to bitterness. Therefore, protect me from the lies that Satan is whispering. Speak loudly and boldly, Lord, your truth. I don’t want to hurt you. I don’t want to hurt kids. And I don’t want to hurt your Kingdom plans.