A few months ago I was talking about personality types with one of my coworkers friends at lunch. She had recently been asked to take on an administrative-type role within the school that we work in and admitted that she thinks that she is too “type B” to be successful in that line of work. As a complete scatter-brain, I told her that I myself felt like I didn’t do well when I worked in administration, mostly because I am “so Type B that I’m almost type C”. (I stand by my statement; I’m sure that’s how that works.)
I am not a “planner” and honestly was only slightly successful in an administration role because of my flexibility and ability to adapt my actions when situations dissolve around me.
Don’t get me wrong, I love organization, but I don’t maintain it well over extended periods of time.
And while I appreciate rules, I have always been one to test my boundaries.
When you combine all of these character traits, it is obvious why I flourish in the semi-chaotic alternative school that I work in.
But I noticed a bit of an internal change when I transitioned from working within the school to teaching at the school full time– You see, as a teacher, I felt a new need to have my kids uphold “the rules”.
“Thou shall not cuss in my classroom.”
“Thou shall not punch thy classmate in thy face.”
“Thou shall not sleep with thy boyfriend, lest thee become pregnant and drop out of school.”
“Thou shall not smoke weed during morning break.”
The RULES of school.
This desire to “uphold” the rules is probably a result of a year of educator training in my licensure program and that feeling of teacher-ly responsibility for molding these young adults into fully functioning, responsible, morally upstanding citizens. (A weighty responsibility when you yourself are only 22 and have yet to actually understand how to buy your own health insurance or figure out how a mortgage works.)
Anyway, I tried and tried to force my students to uphold “the rules”, but in true teenage fashion, the more I reminded them of these weird laws the more they seemed to push back or just block me out entirely. For the last several months, I exhausted myself playing into this bizarre power struggle with my students over things that I honestly have minimum control over.
Then, my Gospel Community dug into the beginning of John 5.
After this there was a feast of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem.
2 Now there is in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate a pool, in Aramaic called Bethesda, which has five roofed colonnades. 3 In these lay a multitude of invalids—blind, lame, and paralyzed.5 One man was there who had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. 6 When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had already been there a long time, he said to him, “Do you want to be healed?” 7 The sick man answered him, “Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up, and while I am going another steps down before me.” 8 Jesus said to him, “Get up, take up your bed, and walk.” 9 And at once the man was healed, and he took up his bed and walked.
Now that day was the Sabbath. 10 So the Jews said to the man who had been healed, “It is the Sabbath, and it is not lawful for you to take up your bed.” 11 But he answered them, “The man who healed me, that man said to me, ‘Take up your bed, and walk.’” 12 They asked him, “Who is the man who said to you, ‘Take up your bed and walk’?” 13 Now the man who had been healed did not know who it was, for Jesus had withdrawn, as there was a crowd in the place. 14 Afterward Jesus found him in the temple and said to him, “See, you are well! Sin no more, that nothing worse may happen to you.” 15 The man went away and told the Jews that it was Jesus who had healed him. 16 And this was why the Jews were persecuting Jesus, because he was doing these things on the Sabbath.
In many other translations of passage, the phrase “the Jews” has been substituted for “the Pharisees”, which is actually a more accurate depiction of the people questioning Jesus and the man whom He has healed. The Pharisees were the Jewish leaders charged with upholding “the law”, and up until the moment when we read this passage out loud as a group, I had never been able to fully identify with someone charged with up keeping the law.
But in that moment, I felt like someone had dropped a ton of bricks on my chest.
I had become a modern day Pharisee.
It’s not a question of whether or not God works miracles in the lives of my students… I know He does and I’ve seen several students’ lives transformed by His grace and mercy just this school year.
Just like Jesus healed the man by the pool in Jerusalem, He has transformed the live of one of my “toughest” students who was addicted to drugs and teetering on the edge of gang life just three months ago.
And while I literally screamed and jumped up and down the moment that I found out that He had accepted Christ, I have relentlessly been nagging him and my other students about “the rules” just like the Pharisees nagged Jesus about healing someone on the Sabbath and then telling them to stand up and carry their bed.
“Quit cussing in class.” “If you stopped smoking weed, you wouldn’t be super lethargic and you could get your homework done.” “Get away from your boyfriend/girlfriend in the hallways.” “Blah blah, [Insert the annoying “adult voice” from the Peanuts comic strip here] blah blah.”
Why I continue to think that my rules are going to affect change in the lives of my broken students when they really just need Jesus, I don’t know.
But what I do know, is that I’m taking a bit of a new approach within my line of work.
No, I’m not going to stop addressing problems when they arise and I’m not going to speak the truth about life and the Gospel any less. (And students, if you’re reading this please don’t think that this is an open opportunity for you to punch your classmate in the face tomorrow.)
But I’m vowing not to sweat the small stuff and instead address the deeper issue at hand; the fact that we may be rebels and rule breakers, but that we were all placed here to glorify a beautiful King, and that nothing outside of Him is going to fill the void that they feel when they try to slap a band aid over a flesh wound.