A Trip to the Principal’s Office
Some encounters stick with you and forever alter your perspective. Such is the case with Michael. It was a sunny spring afternoon when six-year-old Michael was escorted to my office by his teacher. I saw them coming around the corner through the windows that flanked the hallway. His teacher, whom I adored, seemed to be walking with determination while Michael’s little legs were trying to keep up. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but something told me Michael was in trouble.
As they entered my office his teacher calmly said, “Tell her what you did.” At that moment, Michael lost it. He burst into tears, sobbing uncontrollably. To this day, I’m not sure what brought on the emotional outburst. Was he afraid? Was he ashamed? Was he putting on a show? Was he even aware of what was happening? He literally couldn’t speak, so his teacher spoke for him. It went something like this.
Everyone was outside for recess. Apparently, Michael had returned to the room. When his teacher entered the classroom, she found him spitting on desks and wiping the desks with his sleeve. As she looked around the room, she didn’t see clean desks; instead, she saw desks decorated with designs of dirt and saliva. Needless to say, she was not a happy camper. A trip to the principal’s office was in order!
When she finished the explanation, Michael was still crying. His tears were now dripping onto his shirt. Despite his actions, my heart was burdened for this little guy. I instinctively got down on my knees, looked him straight in the eyes, and quietly said, “Michael, did you know it was wrong to spit on desks and wipe the desks with your sleeve?” Through his sobs, he said, “No. That is how my daddy does it.”
His response left me and his teacher speechless. We both knew the discipline Michael needed had to be couched in mercy and instruction. Michael had to learn from this experience without being shamed, but Michael wasn’t the only one who needed guidance. As a young principal, I had a lot to learn, too. It is only by God’s grace I responded the way I did to Michael. I had other options, but I believe God divinely orchestrated this incident to remind me of a few things.
First, I’m going to mess up. Either intentionally or unintentionally, I will fail. The Bible says there is always a war going on in our flesh (Romans 8), and all of us fall short (Romans 3:23). While I shouldn’t take this as a license to sin (I Peter 2:16), acknowledging my failure is the first step. Just like Michael had to go to the principal’s office, I have to go to the throne room of God (i.e., God’s office) if I am going to learn. Sometimes this means coming clean before the Father when we know we have failed. Proverbs 28:13 says, “People who conceal their sins will not prosper, but if they confess and turn from them, they will receive mercy.”
At other times we might be like Michael and not recognize our faults. In this case, we can ask God to reveal those to us.
Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. Point out anything in me that offends you, and lead me along the path of everlasting life. Psalm 139:23-24
Second, I don’t have to be afraid. While I may come before the Lord sobbing like Michael, it doesn’t have to be because of fear. We should never view God as the mean principal waiting to give us swats or detention. God knows our shortcomings. This is why he sent Jesus. Forgiveness, mercy, and restoration are always available to those who believe.
If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 1 John 1:9
And I will forgive their wickedness, and I will never again remember their sins. Hebrews 8:12
God loves us. He never wants us to be scared to approach him. Hebrews 4:16 tells us we can draw near to His throne with confidence! Mercy and grace will be waiting!
Finally, God’s discipline is always for my good. God does not want to shame me, punish me, or hurt me. His discipline comes from a place of love. Any of us who have been parents can relate to this. I don’t know about you, but disciplining our children was not my favorite thing to do. However, I knew the well-being of my girls depended on it. Each child needs to understand boundaries and consequences so they can grow and mature into successful adults. The same is true for our spiritual growth; we must be transformed to become more like Jesus each and every day. Sometimes this takes discipline (2 Corinthians 3:18).
My child, don’t reject the Lord’s discipline, and don’t be upset when he corrects you. For the Lord corrects those he loves, just as a father corrects a child in whom he delights.Proverbs 3:11-12
For our earthly fathers disciplined us for a few years, doing the best they knew how. But God’s discipline is always good for us, so that we might share in his holiness. No discipline is enjoyable while it is happening—it’s painful! But afterward, there will be a peaceful harvest of right living for those who are trained in this way. Hebrews 12:10-11
It is amazing to me how God can take a 15-minute interaction with a child to teach me so much. This encounter changed how I saw myself; it also gave me more grace toward others. As Christian educators, I think it is important to apply these three lessons in our own workplaces.
· Don’t be too hard on others. This includes colleagues, parents, and students. None of us are perfect. We will all make mistakes. We will all fall short.
· Demonstrate mercy and grace. Try to understand the circumstances from the other person’s perspective. Seek to understand. There may be a lot more to the story. Forgive quickly.
· Discipline with love. Students should know our motives are only for their good. Stay calm. Emotions often hide our intentions. Accountability and consequences should always point to growth. Let’s not “put them in their place” but help them understand how our actions are designed to help them. Like the Scripture says, discipline may not be enjoyable while it is happening, but it will pay off in the end!
When I was a principal, I would like to think students enjoyed coming to my office! That may or may not have been the case depending on the circumstances. However, unlike my office, stepping into God’s office is a privilege and an opportunity to grow in our faith and learn from what it means to be loved by Him.
Enjoy your trip to the office!