August is here, and the rat race has begun as we gear up for a new school year, a year after a worldwide pandemic! The thought of it makes my heart beat a little faster. Educators are being bombarded by the inevitable reality of learning loss and increased achievement gaps for some of our most vulnerable students. It’s no one’s fault. It is impossible to experience a year of remote learning, simultaneous teaching, disrupted school schedules, health or family-related stress, and social isolation without adverse effects. Any one of these factors is significant let alone all of them together! The charge to “catch students up” feels insurmountable, but I have no doubt teachers all across this country are digging in and preparing to start!
I would like to stop here and offer a word of caution. I know how important it is to focus on academics (e.g., curriculum standards, lesson preparations, assessments). Many teachers are going to feel intense pressure this year to make up for lost time. As a result, it will be easy to lose sight of the relational aspect of teaching and learning. It would be for me anyway.
One of the things I constantly have to work on is having a Godly perspective versus a worldly perspective, especially when I am under stress. Demanding times often cause us to zoom in on our circumstances. If I am not careful I can find myself slipping into a “take charge” mode. Whatever the task, I just want to get it done! Forget the niceties! So how do we keep it together and focus on what is most important? How do we keep a Godly perspective in the midst of a dog-eat-dog culture? The answer lies where we would expect—in God’s Word. There are many passages I could have chosen, but these verses in Colossians 3:12-14 spoke to my spirit.
Put on then, as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.
We can’t do this in our own strength, but as believers we are empowered to do the impossible through the supernatural work of Christ in our lives. Our first step, though, is remembering WHO we are IN Christ.
Put on then, as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved… Let’s camp out on these three words: chosen, holy, beloved. God chose you! He chose you to be set apart (holy), and He chose you because He loves you! I don’t ever want to take this for granted. It’s so important to keep this truth at the forefront of our thinking. We must believe what God says about us above all else! This is a big deal. Beliefs are precious because they reflect who we are and how we live our lives.
When we truly grasp this—we are chosen, holy and loved—our lives can reflect Christ IN us. We can actually put on compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. This speaks to the “human” part of teaching (i.e., our relationships). A significant measure of our Christian life is found simply in how we treat people and the quality of our relationships with them. It isn’t easy, especially when we are so consumed with the tasks at hand. We have to be intentional, making this a matter of prayer and submission. Everyone will be under a great deal of pressure this upcoming year as the charge to “catch students up” permeates our school environments. Let’s take a look at how we can be empowered through the Holy Spirit to focus on what is most important: “putting on” or “wearing” our new self.
· Compassionate Heart. We all desire to have a compassionate heart. I think that is why many of us went into teaching. In these verses a compassionate heart can also be translated as tender mercies, meaning we are to be sensitive toward another’s misery. I couldn’t help but think of all the children who have lost a parent or caregiver this past year. So many have been negatively impacted in other ways. Sometimes all a person needs is to be seen and to know someone cares.
· Kindness. Kindness is an act that needs little explanation. We all know what it means to be kind. Paul reminds us that kindness means we care as much about others as we do ourselves. It reminds me of what we always tell our students, “Treat others as you want to be treated.” We often characterize kind people as being friendly, generous, and considerate. I’m not sure this comes naturally anymore. Given the past year and our current culture, it seems many are focused solely on themselves. However, we know we can and should exhibit kindness to those around us. It is who we are IN Christ.
· Humility, Meekness, Patience. These three virtues are enough to write a book on, but David Guzik explained it this way. We can say that humility is the “parent” of both meekness and longsuffering. Meekness shows how humility will affect my actions towards others; I will not dominate, manipulate, or coerce for my own ends, even if I have the power and the ability. Longsuffering shows how humility will affect my reaction towards others; I will not become impatient, short, or filled with resentment towards the weaknesses and sins of others. (1) It is obvious this is a tall order in our own strength, but God’s Word reminds us this is entirely possible IN Christ. It’s a matter of surrendering to His Lordship on a daily basis.
If this wasn’t enough, we are also called to forgive!
….bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.
Forgiveness is a touchy topic and deserves more than I can provide in a short blog. One of the best explanations I have heard comes from Dr. Tony Evans.
Forgiveness is not pretending like the wound didn’t happen, or that it didn’t really hurt. That’s called lying. If it happened, it happened, and if it hurt, it hurt. Forgiveness does not mean just brushing off the offense as if it were nothing. So forgiveness does not start with a feeling. Instead, it is a decision of your will to no longer charge the offense to the offender’s account. It is the decision to release the other person from a debt in spite of how you feel. People often ask, “How do I know if I’ve really forgiven someone?” It’s simple—you’re not continually charging the account. That is, you’re not relating to that person today based on what they did yesterday. (2)
Forgiveness isn’t easy. However, Paul painfully reminds us how much we have been forgiven; as a result, we are called to forgive others. When I am struggling with forgiveness, I have to take a step back and think about where I would be without God’s forgiveness in my own life. The thought is quite frightening! As Dr. Evans said, it is a decision and one I believe has to made on our knees.
Lastly, let’s not forget the most important virtue of all – LOVE.
And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.
When Paul says “above all” he is referring to love like an outer garment, one that covers and is all encompassing. Love is the summary of all the things described in this passage. When you give the matter some thought, it is impossible to be compassionate, kind, humble, meek, and patient apart from love. Love must be the thread that binds everything together. This is such a great reminder for me. If I struggle with putting on my new self and allowing Christ to live me, then I need to go back to where I started and remind myself of who I am in Christ. I am chosen, holy, and LOVED! So are you. Remember who you are!
As pressures mount this next school year (and they will), it is my prayer Christian educators will exhibit compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, patience, and love in the midst of change, turmoil and potentially unrealistic expectations. It is possible when we remember who we are in Christ!
But Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” Matthew 19:26
And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. Colossians 3:17