I have a short and simple thought for this week, but it is an important one nonetheless.
This is my seventh year teaching high school students. I still enjoy it, actually. Especially here at Ambleside. I enjoy being able to serve in a relational capacity as well as an instructional one. I will admit, that can be quite exhausting at times.
Teenagers always keep you on your toes. They are very predictable in many ways but still find ways to surprise you. Something that amazes me about students is how self-sufficient they are while also remaining quite fragile. I am actually convinced that this is not just the case for teens, but that adults operate this way as well. I even suspect this is true of myself.
Recently I was talking to a student who is graduating this year and is nervous about what comes next. I told them I would not presume to tell them what to do with their life or what they should study, but that I thought they wrote beautifully. Immediately their eyes welled with tears and their posture stiffened up to try not to cry.
The following week another student turned in an essay 12 days late. Not because they are any more careless than any other student, but because they got stuck and overly concerned with doing a poor job. It took some time for this to come to light. A brief conversation with a parent and some feedback for the student helped solve the issue.
When they returned to school the next day I told them I got their essay and they did a great job. The student turned bright red, a wide smile stretched across their face, and they quickly tried to get out of the room.
I have had so many of these little experiences with students over the years, it has actually impacted the way that I see everyone. The fact is we have no idea the weight people carry around with them. We do not hear the voices of condemnation playing continually in their minds.
But it is so easy to be an encouragement. I am reminded of this every time I encounter a homeless person talking to themselves in a parking lot. Every time I come across a news story where I am meant to laugh at the plight of a poor person who has become entangled in drugs. Every time I hear callous political rhetoric. I remember these small encounters I have with my students. I cannot change people’s lives or solve society’s ills, but it is so easy to be an encouragement. It is easy to be kind.
I used to want to change the world. I was fiery in my 20s. My sermons were so heavy. I used the scriptures to heap burdens upon those who sat and listened. I placed these burdens most heavily upon myself. I had a lot of knowledge, but little wisdom. Life has a way of teaching you the meaning of grace. You learn it from experience, and this knowledge is expensive.
These days, carrying my own burdens and voices of condemnation, I just want to be an encouragement to those around me.
To the people I work with.
To the students on campus.
To strangers I encounter.
And, most challenging of all, to my family at home.