I am sitting in my classroom of five years, in the process of cleaning it out for awhile. Each of the 29 desks has a pile on it: old graded essays, vocabulary books, newspaper articles I meant to share with my students, boxes of tea, so many coffee mugs, art supplies…a little snippet of my interactions with hundreds of students. I love being a teacher. Not every moment, but if I went back I wouldn’t have chosen another career path. But I’ve been burned out, and I am at peace with my decision to take time off.
But the world is so unsettled right now. Our communities are hurting and confused. I open my Facebook feed and see demands for my anger, but as senator Tim Scott observed in 2018, “It’s too easy to be angry. And too natural. And also, too unproductive” (Politico). Instead of anger, the overwhelming emotions I am experiencing are sadness and helplessness. Perhaps it’s my residual post-partum depression talking, but Satan is beating me down. I feel the brokenness of our world, and I am torn between my roles as an educator, mother, wife, American, and Christian.
What I am being told from so many sources appear to conflict. Do I stay home to stop the spread? Do I march to end police brutality? Will breaking the windows at our downtown Jimmy Johns make people listen? Should I homeschool my children since remote learning has been so hard on students and teachers? Should I never homeschool because some think it exerts too much power over my own children?
I have such a hard time battling my own sinful human nature; my desire to over-analyze the rhetoric of everything I see and read (7 years of AP English Language is a hard habit to break); my fear and need to hide in my house to adopt the Benedict Option; my vow to support my husband in his own battles (our school theology department is under attack online for some filmed devotions); and my prayer to let “thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”
In a thread with some of fellow pastor wives, one of my black friends wrote, “One of the most powerful things we can do to combat racism is to expose our children to POC [people of color]. That continued exposure builds a bond and a sense of empathy, and sense of community. Take a look at your circles and the communities you live in. How often do your children see POC? If the answer is hardly ever or never, then POC become ‘those people’ because a sense of ‘us’ was never created.”
I really appreciated this observation, because it is something I can do right away that will feel like it matters, and I can see the effect. We live in a heterogeneous neighborhood, my children attend diverse schools, and they have friends and cousins of different ethnicity and appearance. We read books with characters of all colors. We talk about how to view and treat others. Are my kids sinful human beings? You bet they are. Am I? Unquestionably. But my husband and I strive to teach them to love their neighbor, always be kind, and to stand up for what is right. We are all made in God’s image. This does not mean we cannot acknowledge differences, but differences are never an excuse to treat anyone as less than a beloved child of God.
If my high school students came to me to struggling to understand the events of our world, I would tell them that for now, turn off their phones, read books that teach them things they didn’t know before, and pray. Listen to the views of others, love their neighbors as themselves, and read their Bibles. Sleep. Exercise. Pray again.
I am not doing all the things I would tell my students to do. This is part of my problem, and part of the unsettled nature of my heart right now.
At my parochial high school, our faculty tries to teach our students using the Gospel of Jesus Christ as our basis, but this message often puts us at odds with much of the secular world. My husband is a pastor; in his ordination vows he promised to always preach the Gospel message. My brother is also a pastor; at his confirmation 15 years ago, the pastor read his confirmation verse out loud, and I viscerally remember my shiver of foreboding:
Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and for ten days you will have tribulation. Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life.Revelation 2:10 (ESV)
I didn’t know where that fear came from at the time, but now I do. Several of my closest male family members are pastors. I have seen them verbally attacked, even by people who are loved ones. The world does not like the Bible’s message. Many try to interpret it differently than I do. They certainly have the right in this country to do so.
In the internet age where verbal attacks are quick and vicious, I am afraid for my family facing hate and even doxxing, for the worldly sin of engaging publicly in Christian ministry. I know this is a very different fear from those of others in my community. It’s true, that I don’t fear police officers (I’m related to quite a few). I also don’t like physical and psychological harm at the hands of anyone, especially those who are supposed to care for others. The fifth commandment states, “Thou shalt not murder.” Martin Luther explained it in the Small Catechism:
What does this mean? We should fear and love God so that we do not hurt or harm our neighbor in his body, but help and support him in every physical need.The Small Catechism, Martin Luther
Four months ago, my biggest concern that kept me up at night was stress about grading English essays, when my daughter would potty train, and when my baby would sleep through the night.
Now, anxiety is a constant state.
My grandfather, isolated in a senior home without visitors.
My husband, harassed for upholding his ordination vows.
My husband’s army hospital unit, spread out across the country caring for Covid patients.
My parents, getting ready to retire in an uncertain financial era.
My students, alone at home, confused at how to process their world and how humans can be so cruel to each other.
My children, growing up with a mom who struggles with depression, anxiety, a messy house, and not enough sleep.
My church at large, struggling to preach the gospel and be brave in the face of dissent.
My fellow citizens, who often seem to have dispensed with goodwill and the desire to understand the views of others.
I want to listen, and I want to be listened to. I want to pray, and be prayed for. I want to sleep. And I want to wake up to sunshine and not feel this weight on my chest and the tears behind my eyes and the worry and the helplessness of our broken world.
Thy will be done. Amen.