Saturday, April 30, 2011

A Ten Year Old's Integrity

Teachers learn too...and who is responsible? Our kids. Here's my example:

This last week, I had the honor of showing a dear friend of mine around Egypt. Waking up our first morning, I took her for the thirty minute stroll I walk each day to work. The point being to give her a glimpse of a day in my world here in Cairo. Walking through my classroom, she noticed a bulletin board posted with the names of every child in my class. Placed beside each of their names is a character trait...not a happy one.

Many mornings we spend time talking as a class. This is the time during the day they seem the most willing to listen and engage. Often our morning discussions turn to self reflection, forgiveness, pride, and grace. As a result, we end up talking a lot about the identification of our individual weaknesses. I don't believe fifth grade is too young to teach kids about their sin nature, the spiritual battle for their minds, and their need to be on guard. Spiritual development and self awareness at this age can be dangerous for the dark world...and they know it.

Each child had selected one trait to be their "project" for the year. Two rules were assigned: First, choose a character flaw/sin issue that you know is a problems area you want to deal with; secondly, make sure it's something you don't mind sharing. I was shocked how honest they were because I know these kids, and I know some of their flaws. Smiling at how seriously they were taking this, I posted them. The raw example of integrity is a daily reminder as that board sits on display.

Self reflection is a a vital skill to teach children for the purpose of making the most of their life story. However, it is a necessity we adults often don't utilize. The problem? Accountability. It's unnatural to make time to be accountable for sin issues that we know are holding us back from the growth God intends for us. Phrases like "I am working on it" can be easily used to dodge the act of facing the issue. Now, there are times we genuinely are "working on it"...but the struggle arises when we use that as a reason to not be intentional in overcoming a serious sin pattern. The earlier we can train ourselves to be honest about our struggles, the more time we have to break these habits before they root even deeper. But we often choose to make light of the destructive behavior we have attached ourselves to.

The second step to processing through a sin issue is BELIEF. Do we truly believe that sin is as destructive as the Bible tells us it is? Simply put...sin is comfortable and it's gotten to the point that some people won't even say "sin". It is replaced with words like "mistakes". Sin is always a mistake but a mistake is not always a sin. They are not synonyms. Unfortunately, abuse of grace is the outcome of our mis-education of what sin really is.

Honestly, I don't think we realize the damage we choose by not attacking these sin issues with force. In my own struggle with sin, I have learned that there is a personal difference in simply verbally praying about a sin pattern, versus writing it down and praying about it through journalling. I detest the writing part. Why? Reading about my own sin is a lot more difficult. For whatever reason, looking at examples of failure in print has a deeper effect on me. I get squirmish...therefore, I don't prefer to choose this as my form of processing. Although I know how effective it is despite how much I hate actually doing it. Therefore, I have asked my students to fill out an accountability form from time to time to see where they are with their "project issue". It asks them questions about their struggle, helps them identify patterns of behavior, and gives them opportunities to journal a bit. Each time I look over these, evidence that the Spirit is at work stares back at me.

Many would say this isn't the job of a teacher. But isn't it? I can't assume that any child is receiving the right training at home. I have learned that the secrets of what goes on behind closed doors can be shocking. Even if I have no reason to believe otherwise, I have to do my part in contributing to their personal development. If they are getting it at home too, then double the blessings for that child. It is vital that I use those nine months with them wisely by accepting the responsibility of assisting in character development.

Each day throws dozens of opportunities at me to work with my students on struggles they are facing, but if academics is my only focus, then I am failing. I am beyond privileged as a Christian educator to help them along in their process of personal growth. Now don't get me wrong, I don't dismiss my academic duties. And unfortunately these "opportunities" to process with them most often present themselves at the most inconvenient moments throughout our day. Normally I would throw these opportunities away thinking "i don't have time for this right now." But little by little, I am being challenged to utilize these moments. In honesty, its hard. It would be easier to just do the lesson plans and avoid the stickiness associated with "being a ten year old."

Teaching them brings out the worst in me, and I first realized this my first year as a teacher. But I am trying to be thankful rather than angry about the sin that is exposed. Sin is a web, and the more we try to run away from it, the more it catches us and tangles us. Facing it head on, admitting it, and choosing to participate in strategies to avoid it all are required if we wish for our stories to move us in the direction of His glory. Teaching this while also learning it only pushes me further into accountability, and my kiddos are clueless that they have involuntarily accepted the role as my accountability partners.

In honesty, I was hesitant in choosing a sin issue of my own to work through along side my kids. In order to keep things professional I did not post mine on the class board. However, even writing it down was weird. I didn't want to. As the kids have filled out their accountability forms I kept my own copy off to the side "not finding time" to fill it out. Once again, I didn't want to. But why?

Here I found myself in a moment of hypocrisy while my students were working hard on processing through sin struggles, and doing so openly and honestly. Yet I, their teacher, was hiding. I did not want to put myself through the same test of integrity that they willingly participated in.

As new sins are exposed I find myself drowning in the emotion of guilt. But the reality is that sin is always going to be exposed. As a fallen being on this earth there is no way around it. Allowing myself to play the "helpless" card is just another form of giving into it. Reflection and accountability are tools God has provided to teach us how to move forward, facing sin patterns with force, cracking the code, and untangling these webs we get wrapped up in.

Fortunately for me, it took a group of ten year olds who value growth to push me back on track...yet they have no idea the impact of their willing spirits. Raw integrity...the faith of a child.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

a battle already won

Sin. It creeps in for one purpose...Destruction. Disguising itself as a pleasurable pastime, it maneuvers like a snake slithering into your thoughts and penetrating your veins, til you can't distinguish truth in the midst of a cloudy, mental fog. On the brink of temptation, a plethora of lies seep into your head one after the other. As one is dismissed, another is right there, waiting to snatch your attention. You give in, exhausted at the internal battle playing as if in fast forward. Before you know it, you have trained yourself against immediate guilt...numb to shame...for it is still fresh...and the sinful high remains...hoping to linger. The downhill spiral has begun, yet you don't even realize it until you are flat on your face, not even sure which way is up.

It is my fault that I am here once again. This place, all too familiar...these feelings, as common as breathing, these thoughts, no longer shocking...this confusion, a regular reality. But I've done it again, I am to blame, so no reason to complain. I brought myself here through the pride swelling inside me. I think I am moving, but then find it impossible to shift, even a little. Suddenly I realize I am face down in the mud, stuck, frozen in place. But the realization of where I am gives me the ability to rise to my feet, yet they too now are incapable of moving forward.

"Why again Lord? What happened? Isn't our journey on some sort of schedule? Why did we stop? What? I can't hear you? Will you please speak up? Why are you way over there? Huh? Won't you come here please? I am trying to talk to you."

But then it hits me...it becomes clear. I don't want to admit it to myself, but there is no denying it...I threw myself down in the mud again. He tried to warn me that this part was slippery like a trap I would fall into, but I refused to listen. I had too many reasons why I was okay, I knew what I could handle. I was strong, or so I thought.

It is all coming back to me now...suddenly refreshed. I look up and see that He is right where I left Him. He has been waiting for us to continue , but apparently I was enjoying the muddy mess all too much to notice. As the area around me becomes slippery, I find I myself gliding backwards. Yet He remains in the same place with a concerned look on His face, just sitting there, waiting. My heart, once frozen from the cold of the mud is now starting to soften. Blood pumping slowly, I begin to get my feeling back.

Seeing my reflection in the water of a nearby puddle, I cringe. The reality of the dirt smeared on my face and the realization of what I have become knocks me off my feet and I find myself on my knees...my face against the ground, I begin to sob. Unable to control myself, I wail like a baby...trembling. The more I focus on what I have done, the more I want to give up. "Look at me," I thought. "How did I become this?"

But suddenly, I hear Him. He calls my name. "Come here and we can pray together. Come, sit in my arms, let Me hold you."

Suddenly, my face shoots up, and I find myself rising to my feet. I take a step, and suddenly take off. I didn't feel a thing...but kept my eyes glued to Him as I ran. When I reached Him, His arms were wide open and He pulled me to His chest. He then took His hand, and wiped the mud from my eyes and face so I could see clearly into His. As He pulled me close, I wept. My mud was now covering Him as well, but He didn't seem to care. Rather, He held me gently and listened as I poured out my confessions. He waited patiently as tears poured down my mud stained face. Then taking my hand in His, we began to walk.

"Where are we going?" I said to Him. He gently looked down at me smiling and replied, "to get the others."