“We’ve learned a thing or two because we’ve seen a thing or two.” Although this is the byline of popular insurance company, this could be one of my mantras. The key word in this phrase is “learned”. Yes, I have seen a thing or two, but more importantly, I have learned a thing or two. Sometimes the learning came from what I saw, but more often than not, the learning came from my decision to engage or not engage in the circumstances around me.
Let’s be honest. Sometimes it is much easier to disengage. Although it may seem safer to disengage, I believe God places us in our present circumstances for a reason. We may not understand it, we may rebel against it, and we may try to ignore it; regardless, our circumstances remain. I would like to tell you that over the course of 30+ years in education, I have always chosen to embrace and engage in every circumstance. I am quite sure that wasn’t the case. Over the years, my memory has faded. When we choose to disengage, there doesn’t seem to be much to remember.
In those times I did choose to embrace my circumstances and seek God’s wisdom and guidance, I learned. I usually learned a great deal. As such, I decided to start a blog series called “Lessons Learned.” While the best lessons are learned from our own experiences, I pray that by sharing my learnings, others will find hope, guidance and encouragement. It seems silly to not share the power and goodness of God.
Lesson Learned: Own your part of the problem, and make it right.
I really didn’t want to start this blog series with this learning, but every time I tried to think about a different lesson, God brought me back to this one. I suppose it is because this lesson was one of the hardest ones I had to learn.
I need to give you a little background. I graduated from college a semester early and went right into teaching. I was energetic and ready to change the world! After one semester of teaching, I started my master’s degree and finished it within two years. I loved learning and the challenge of completing an advanced degree. I taught six more years, and in that sixth year was president of a state organization. This organization allowed me to make contacts which opened up a door for me to start my doctorate degree. A full year of course work and another year of dissertation writing ensued, and I walked the doctoral graduation stage before the age of 30 (barely). I was a building principal in my twenties and a district level administrator before the age of 40. I’m not telling you this to receive any recognition at all because it is obvious God had His hand in all of this. This background is important to understand the lesson learned I learned. Moving up through the educational ranks so quickly gave me a lot of confidence, but I had a lot to learn.
During my time as an administrator, I worked long hours and was faced with solving problems and making important decisions on a daily basis. I loved the people I worked with and the challenges I faced. However, there were some with whom I worked who seemed to dislike me simply because of my position. I found that very frustrating. I really didn’t have the maturity to deal with those type of people.
There was one particular colleague who looked for opportunities to disagree with me on a regular basis. (I want to protect this person’s identity so I am being a bit vague here.) This person had a position of authority like me, and we were often in meetings together. It wasn’t unusual for this person to be so combative that others would ask me after the meeting what had happened between us. It was obvious to everyone that there was no love lost between the two of us. This went on for several years. No kidding.
During this time, I made my quiet time a priority. Always up before dawn, I would get my coffee and spend time in God’s Word as I wrote in my journal and prayed. It was during this time that I began to pray about this situation. It was a burden to me, and I knew that somehow I was partly responsible. God spoke to me during that time as His Word says He will.
But the helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. John 14:26
He told me I needed to make it right with this person, and that involved apologizing and asking for forgiveness for my part in the situation. In addition, God told me that I had to do this WITHOUT expecting anything in return. I must admit, I knew in my heart this is what I needed to do—it was the right thing. God’s Word is clear—forgive as I have forgiven you. He kept reminding me that I didn’t deserve forgiveness either. I still don’t, but He forgives me and expects nothing in return.
Knowing the right thing to do is easy. Doing the right thing can be hard. I really had to swallow my pride. I had to let go of all of my excuses and all of the reasons why I was right and my colleague was wrong. None of that mattered. It took time. I wish I could tell you I jumped up that morning and headed right over and apologized, but I didn’t.
I was honest with God. I flat out told Him I didn’t know if I could do it. I was angry. This person had treated me unfairly (or so I thought), tried to discredit me, and publicly embarrassed me. I was right. Yes, maybe I made some mistakes, but…
God said, “It doesn’t matter.” I knew He was right. I could get there in my head but not in my heart. So, I prayed. I prayed, “God change my heart. Help me let go of the anger. Help me get to a point where I can ask for forgiveness and expect nothing in return.” I prayed this prayer over and over for at least three months. I thought about it often. God was not going to let this go.
Each day as I drove home, I drove by this person’s place of work. On one particular occasion, for some reason unknown to me, I said, “God, I will drive by the employee parking lot today, and if this person’s car is there, I will stop. I am ready.” It was late in the day, and I actually thought this person had left for the day.
Guess what? Only one car was left in the parking lot. Be careful what you pray for.
I made my way down the long hallway to the office. My heart was pumping out of my chest, but I had an eerie confidence. My colleague was surprised to see me, and I asked if we could visit for a few minutes. I sat down and calmly stated why I was there. I humbly apologized for anything I had done to cause friction or hard feelings. I expressed my desire to wipe the slate clean and work together going forward. I asked for forgiveness, and I meant it. Forgiveness was granted, and I was thanked for coming in. That was it. Done.
As I walked back to my car, I felt a weight had been lifted off my shoulders. There was a smile on my face! You are probably wondering if this person apologized to me. Nope—not at that time or in the future—but it didn’t matter. God had removed my need for that. It really didn’t matter, and I think that is why I was smiling. I asked God to make sure I didn’t expect anything in return, and He did. He really did. I get excited just thinking about it again.
After that day, everything changed. All future interactions were positive. The rebelliousness and animosity were gone. This person and I never became close friends, but we were able to effectively work together. Although this was a tough lesson for me to learn, it has served me well. In fact, I am still learning.
My actions and responses cannot be determined by what others do or say. My actions and responses must reflect God’s presence in my life.
Let your light so shine before men that they will see your good works
and glorify your Father in heaven. Matthew 5:16
Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for building up according to the need of the moment, that it may give grace to those who hear. Ephesians 4:29
When things are not right between me and another person, I have to make it right. I have to take the initiative.
Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called sons of God. Matthew 5:9
Forgiving others is not an option.
As those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience; bearing one another and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so should you. Colossians 3:12-13
Although my lesson learned—own your part of the problem and make it right—occurred many years ago, I find that it is important to stay diligent. Continuing to be in God’s Word and meeting with Him in prayer is the only way to ensure these lessons learned are not forgotten.
Think back over your time as an educator. What lessons have you learned? Please feel free to share the lessons you learned and how God’s goodness and faithfulness has been displayed in your circumstances. #lessonslearned #victoriouseducator on social media! Let’s start a new trend!
Next Week: More in the “Lessons Learned” series.