A student told me recently she thinks God only created her to fulfill the needs of other people – making food, cleaning house, doing laundry. References to her family – she’s unmarried and keeps house for her widower father and two brothers – always carry a note of conditioned disappointment. She takes care of them all, they do nothing to help her (and, in fact, sometimes the opposite).
I tried to offer briefly another story – one of a God who created us simply to delight in us. To enjoy us and to delight us with Presence. Her name in Hindi means “song” and I was desperate to say something to her that would open her ears to the song of love being sung over her.
This blog has fallen silent over the past few weeks in large part because I’m a teacher again. I’ve got four hours of classes a day I’m responsible for. Eleven students to welcome and to figure out and to teach. It’s both exhilarating and terrifying to be back in the classroom. My students seem to feel the same way.
There’s something about learning something new – perhaps most especially a new language – that leaves people feeling vulnerable at best, like a hopeless idiot at worst. One student is so petrified of saying the wrong thing in front of his classmates, he literally mouthed his answers to me voicelessly for the first several weeks of class. His answers are very nearly always right.
Every student comes with a story about themselves. A story written in their head, but heavily informed by the input of others. One student told me she was humiliated as a child in Hindi class every day by the teacher because she couldn’t do the standard dictation exercises. Another said she tried to explain where she was getting stuck in English to a teacher and was completely dismissed and told she would never understand. It’s all a lot of baggage to be carrying around.
As a teacher, you end up doing this delicate dance of hearing the communication students aren’t willing to say out loud. You look for the students who are trying to hide. You work for ways to show their own potential to the student who thinks they are completely incompetent.
As a teacher, I bring my own baggage too. Just the other day, I found myself correcting students harshly. There was a thinly veiled superiority in the way I explained the present perfect and past perfect tenses. When I stopped to consider why I was suddenly psyco-teacher, I realized I was trying to make up for a morning of feeling like a complete, incompetent idiot. My own mistake and misunderstanding had led to a bunch of wasted time and work. Maybe it would make me feel better if I could prove how awesome I am to my students…
The baggage doesn’t just distract in the classroom, does it? We each one of us are telling ourselves a story about who we are. It is rarely a positive and life-giving story. We dodge relationships because the story in our head says that people will only ever hurt us. We shrink from trying something new because we’ve been told there’s nothing worse than failing. We work desperately to keep up appearances because what will people think if they know we’re exhausted and dying a little on the inside?
But then there are blessed moments when someone looks to hear the communication we’re not willing to say out loud. When someone does the delicate dance of seeking out what we’re trying to hide and naming our own potential. When someone offers grace for our failures, hope in our silence, encouragement for our disappointment. Someone who opens our ears just a little bit to hear the song of love and delight being sung over us. A song that says we have been seen even while trying to hide, known even while trying to fake it and still He has died for us.
More often, I think, we’re too busy hiding ourselves to sing one another into the light. But perhaps, if we learn to sing this song to one another, to offer this bit of grace to one another, the stories we tell ourselves might just become a bit fuller of life.