I work in a service position as a teacher; I live in a service position as a wife, mother, and neighbor; and I volunteer in a service position at my church. Needless to say, you would think I would be an expert servant and have an overflowing servant’s heart, which is why God placed me in those roles…not in the least. I love it when God’s creativity and sense of humor shine in my life, but I hate it when I don’t realize it until way later than I should have. I will begin my sixth year of teaching this month, I just celebrated four wonderful years of marriage to my husband, I have lived among my neighbors for three years, and I have served in my church for just a couple of months and I just recently realized how little serving I’ve actually done. Most of those activities, if I am brutally honest with myself, has been self-serving. The sad part is, during that time period I actually believed that I was doing what God called me to do. I actually believed that I was truly serving the people around me. Don’t get me wrong, God has truly called me to each one of those roles and He did use me to bring glory to Himself, but did I allow Him to use me to my full potential, without any strings attached, and exponentially affect His kingdom? No; how could He when I was so self-absorbed and thought I had all the answers? How can He use someone who already knows it all and has preconceived notions about what the people around her need, instead of really paying attention and listening to their needs as the Word directs me in Proverbs 27:23? And the person who has suffered the greatest loss in those situations is me. God will accomplish His purpose in the lives of the people I’m serving. His plans will be completed in my students’ lives, my family, my neighbors’ homes, and in my church. If I didn’t meet their needs, He will send someone who will meet their needs, but I have missed out on huge blessings. I have missed out on growth--true growth, growth that causes me to expand my wings and live outside my comfort zone, taking risks for God’s kingdom.
I have received countless numbers of compliments on my teaching strategies and methods from my students, colleagues, administrators, parents, and neighbors. I was awarded Teacher of the Year for my school after only one year of teaching under my belt. Yet, I’m not bringing attention to that fact to brag on my abilities, but to emphasize that I had no clue what I was doing. I write that to showcase what a flawless job God does in accomplishing His plans through such a weak and unworthy vessel like myself. I used to view people and my service to them as a checklist. Consequently, I was serving them, but I was serving them based on a list of needs that I thought they had and answers I thought they required. I would meet a certain need that “a student like that needs” or a “person with that kind of life needs.” I have learned that when I enter into a situation or a relationship in that manner, where I think I already have a diagnosis for each person, I miss out on meeting their actual needs, then both of us walk away from the situation confused, frustrated, and sometimes with bad feelings toward the other person.
I recently taught a student who was the “intelligent, but lazy and the class clown type,” the type of student who had a reading level that was well above grade level, the potential to make exceedingly high grades, and the ability to be a strong and effective leader in the classroom. But I sized him up during the first week of school. I thought he fit into that category. What I later learned was that it was not that at all. This particular student would read novels and participate in “fun” activities, but when it came to writing essays or completing individual classroom assignments, he just shut down and I thought it was because he was lazy and didn’t feel like writing. My husband and I also happen to be friends with his family, and as I occasionally observed his activities, God finally put the pieces together and everything clicked. He wasn’t lazy at all; he plays sports, he washes his family’s vehicles religiously, and he helps his family with home projects. He is very active. One night, as my husband was participating in some self-reflection of his own, he shared that one reason why he doesn’t like walking or running for exercise is because he can’t see that he has accomplished anything once he’s finished. He doesn’t get immediate results and he needs those results to encourage and motivate him to keep going. Then it hit me; the light bulb came on. Similarly, this student I “taught” is wired the same way. He enjoys those types of hands-on activities because he can see instant improvement and he can see that he has accomplished a goal. When it comes to reading and writing, improvement and success take time and it’s difficult to see immediate improvement. Sometimes, you have to rewrite a paper five times before you actually get it “right,” then someone else proofreads it and you realize you have still made mistakes, but it was my job to make that connection with him and provide opportunities for him to see success and I didn’t do it. From an outsider’s perspective, the student did well overall in the class, finishing the semester with a high B average, but I could have created opportunities for him so that He could excel far beyond that average. So, although he was a student in my classroom, he taught me a lesson I will never forget and that will benefit a multitude of students long after he has left my classroom.
It’s my job to leave footprints on my students’ lives and to help them achieve success, but when I size my students up without actually getting to the root of who they are and when I try to fit them in a box with a certain label, I will always fail. They are not objects; they are not manufactured; and they do not come with an answer key. The same thing is true in every area I serve. I cannot face my family, neighbors, friends, colleagues, church, or community thinking I have all the answers and if they don’t benefit from my answers, then there’s something wrong with them because it’s just not true. I realize that I have been brutally and openly honest in this post, but that’s what this blog is for. God has truly given me a paradigm shift that I am now held accountable for and will do my best to implement in every area of service. As He says in Proverbs 27:23, I will strive to truly and accurately “know the condition of my flocks, [and] give careful attention to my herds.”