Babies Teach Us How to Love Better

Babies Teach Us How to Love Better

I was recently able to spend a few days with my newest goddaughter who is only a few months old. As I spent time with her and her parents, I was reminded of a realization I had a few years ago. Babies are the easiest to shower in all five “love languages.”

The five love languages are words of affirmation, physical touch, acts of service, gifts, and quality time. Simply by nature, normal parents will be quite generous with each of these toward their children, particularly babies.

My friend Maria was continually cooing over her daughter, affirming how good and beautiful she was. It wasn’t something that she had to earn–her parents were quite taken with her as she did everyday things like eat, sleep, and giggle. And, what is more, they told her how pleased they were.

Babies are often fought over, as people will stand in line to take a turn holding the baby. At times, beyond needing a diaper changed or food given, babies will cry simply because they desire to be held close to someone.

Acts of service are a pure necessity with babies because, unlike most other animals, humans are born in a state of vulnerability that lasts quite a long time. They must be carried for several months, feed, bathed, and attended to in many other ways.

While often of a practical nature, babies have gifts showered upon them in the form of clothes, accessories, almost entirely frivolous shoes, and toys.

Finally, by their very being, babies require quality time. In part, because so many things must be done for them, but also because they need to be held, to hear a loving voice, and to be consoled.

Despite the ease of loving babies well, I find it quite difficult for that to transfer to the rest of humanity. With my students and co-workers, it is far harder to shower such generous love in all five ways. But recalling that this overflowing of love is necessary for the little ones made me wonder: what would happen if it was attempted in small ways for the more mature? What might happen if I daily affirmed my students in small ways, just for being them?

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Learning the Way of the Cross

Learning the Way of the Cross

Lord, what are you saying to me in this situation?

I was in the chapel with a class of students as we prayed the Stations of the Cross. Only a few were actually praying the words out loud. Others were loudly flipping their papers every time they needed to turn a page. Some acted like genuflecting was a gargantuan task when I know they will go work out at the gym after school. Others were barely alert, kneeling and standing only because the people around them were doing it.

Frustrated and a bit angry, I wondered what I should do about it. It wouldn’t go well to stop them all to tell them to pray louder or ask for more of them to pray. Telling them to not act like kneeling was difficult would only draw attention to it if they continued to carry on in that manner. So I tried to forget about their indifference and enter into the Stations myself.

Interestingly, the words of my spiritual director kept coming to mind. He mentioned that teaching and following the Lord might look like the Stations of the Cross. My life might have to resemble that suffering if I was to do the Lord’s will. And here I was: actually praying the Stations and feeling so done with the antics of teenagers.

Lord, what can I see in this?

As I watched them mechanically perform the proper actions, I thought about how they don’t care. Ah, Lord, sometimes I don’t care, too. I imagined myself on the couch watching a movie and the Lord inviting me to pray yet not caring enough to do so. I pondered the Lord asking me to love my neighbor yet realizing that I do not do that very well at all. The very thing I was lamenting in my students was rooted deeply within my soul, too.

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Making Excuses with Moses

Moses and I might as well be twins.  Yes, I am aware of the historical, ethnic, and cultural difficulties associated with that type of relation, but it is very true.  Moses and I both balk at what the Lord asks of us and then we make excuses.  Not just one excuse that can be neatly answered, but multiple.  And if we run out of excuses, we start re-using the old ones, just in case they appear any stronger after a period of neglect.  I don’t even need to alter much to make the excuses of Moses my own.

Granted Moses faced a bit more of a challenging task then I do.  He was saved from infanticide, raised in Pharaoh’s house, sent into exile after killing an Egyptian, and called by God from a burning bush to march his people (that he never really lived with) out of slavery and into a Promised Land.  No big deal, right?  I, on the other hand, am simply told to be the best teacher I can be, proclaim the truth without fear of the consequences, and become of a disciple for the Lord.  When placed in that light, Moses had very good reason to throw up excuses while my position has a much weaker foundation for it.

Q: “Who am I that I should…?” (Ex. 3:11)
A: “But I will be with you…”
Q: “If…they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?”
A: “I AM who I AM.”

Excuse: “But behold, they will not believe me or listen to my voice…” (Ex. 4: 1)
Reply: “Do not say, ‘I am only a youth’; for to all to whom I send you you shall go, and whatever I command you you shall speak.  Be not afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you, says the Lord.” (Jer. 1: 7-8)
Excuse: “Oh, my Lord, I am not eloquent…”
Reply: “Who has made man’s mouth?  Who makes him mute, or deaf, or seeing, or blind?  Is it not I, the Lord?  Now therefore go, and I will be with your mouth and teach you what you shall speak.”

Final plea: “Oh, my Lord, send, I pray, some other person.” (Ex 4: 13)

This final plea is sometimes what I find myself reduced to.  Just send anyone but me, Lord.  I think of others who are clearly more qualified for the job than me.  I wonder how the Lord could make such a large mistake, could have overlooked their finer qualities and overlooked my giant deficiencies.  This feeling of “Please, Lord, someone else!” isn’t just with large missions, but is with lesser things.  When there is gossip taking place and I feel uncomfortable, but I don’t want to be the one to squelch it.  If I see something that is wrong but wish I hadn’t seen it so that I could simply be naïve. 

When I was offered the teaching job I felt incredibly inadequate.  I had just finished convincing people quite a bit older than me that I was the person they wanted for the job.  Then I was offered the job and I had a more difficult time convincing myself that I was the person for the job.  In fact, I began to compile a mental list of people that would be better at teaching than I would be.  I thought of intelligent priests I knew, passionate young adults filled with both knowledge and fire, and young religious sisters who would be able to articulate the faith in an eloquent manner.  Then I thought of my own abilities and talents.  The list seemed to be woefully short.  I hadn’t lied to the interviewers…I had simply spoken with more confidence than I actually had.  Who would hire someone who said, “I am pretty sure that I can do this job, I think.  _________ and ___________ would be perfect for this job but they aren’t available.  At the very least, I think I could be a decent babysitter for high schoolers.  Hire me.  Please.”  That probably wouldn’t be sufficient.

Instead of relying on my own incredible speaking abilities (which I don’t have) or my limitless intellect (again, fictional), I was forced to rely on the Lord.  Of course, I failed in that but I was forced to try more than if I was gifted with all that was required of me.  I knew that I could not do the task properly on my own.  However, I did know that the Lord could use me to do His will. 

How did I know this?

Past experience, yes.  Bible stories, yes.  Witness of the saints, yes. 

Our Lady.
Padre Pio.
St. Margaret Mary Alacoque.
St. Faustina.

It is not my job to tell the Lord that He has chosen the wrong person or that I am under-qualified.  He already knows my gifts and He knows my weaknesses.  I am convinced that often the Lord chooses people with major weaknesses so that it may be evident to the world that He is doing the work and it is not his/her own skill.

The requirement is a wholehearted yes.  Or at least an openness to being used for God’s will.  It is saying, “Please, Lord, choose somebody more qualified” and then going to talk to Pharaoh anyway when the Lord tells you to.  You are required to be uncertain of the future yet entirely certain of He who already knows the future.  It is surrendering your weaknesses to the bridegroom on the altar of sacrifice and welcoming into yourself the bread of the angels, the strength from heaven, the necessary graces.  It is allowing His to overflow in you and into those in your life.  It is hands wide open, entrusting everything to Our Lord even when we don’t know what that everything even is.

Moses and I both question the Lord and ask Him to choose someone else to do the hard work.  Yet God is unrelenting. 

He crafts our souls, breathes life into us, nourishes us, and then poses a question to us that is hard to refuse. 

“Trish, I created you to reveal an aspect of Myself that nobody else can reveal.  I have a plan for you, I have graces for you, I have a mission for you.  Will you reveal Me to the world and be a part of salvation history?”


How can I refuse?

"Really?!" Semi-Awkward, Semi-Hilarious, Entirely my Life

Sometimes I have to look at events that occur and simply ask, “Really?!”  It doesn’t have to be that huge of an event but sometimes the way things work, or don’t, is almost comical.

Take today, for example.  My Scripture class learned what the phrase “nakedness of his father” actually meant.  For the record, I had no intention of revealing this little tid-bit to my classes.  I didn’t last year, and I had every intention to continue that trend this year.  Nevertheless, I decide to tell them when I learned the other teacher had told his classes what it meant.  I figured it would prevent any questions about it arising later but now I think it never would have surfaced.  The topic was broached and passed over in my third period class.  The idea that Ham committed incest with his mother was repulsive, as evidenced by the looks on their faces, but I moved on fairly quickly to the story of the Tower of Babel.  Class moved slower for my sixth period class because I had to give a lecture about respect to my students.  With a mere ten minutes left of class I was nearing the time to reveal to them what the euphemism actually meant.

Lo and behold, in walks my principal.  For a brief moment I considered bypassing the phrase and going on to the Tower of Babel.  Was it really that important anyway?  What point did it prove?  Despite my hesitation, I committed myself to proceeding in the intended manner because the presence of my principal shouldn’t alter what I teach.  This class is naturally a more reactive class so I wasn’t surprised when the murmuring began.  You can only tip-toe around the matter for so long before it is necessary to plunge in and just say what it means.  He appeared quite interested as I tried to guide my students around this delicate event.  I placed my emphasis largely on what Ham was saying by this action.  Time soon ran out and the bell rang.

He just couldn’t come when I talked about the flood, when we read different Scripture passages from the Old and New Testaments about the flood, when we read about the covenant that God makes with Noah, or when we drew pictures about the different covenants.  Today I actually managed to vary the class and incorporate different teaching aspects.  Yet all that was seen was a ten minute lecture at the end of class about how Ham had relations with his mother.

I’m not sure if I am more horrified by the events or if I simply find it awkwardly hilarious.

All I could think when the door handle turned and I saw my principal walk in was, “Really?  Really!”

On the plus side–perhaps he learned something and I subtly proved that I do have a degree in Theology that has afforded me unique knowledge about Sacred Scripture.  Or I am simply ruining my students’ opinions of the characters of the Bible.

It could have been worse, right?

If I do not love….

Perhaps this will simply reveal my vast flaws as a Christian, but teaching seems to highlight difficulties that I never noticed before.  I know that it is difficult to love others.  I’ve done Totus Tuus, I’ve been a part of a family, I’ve done mission trips, and I’ve driven on the interstate.  Love is difficult. 

Teaching high school has brought a whole new aspect to the “Love is difficult” mantra.  I find myself unable to love firmly.  While I don’t enjoy it, I can be tough and strict with my students.  And when I want to (sometimes when I don’t want to), I can be a push-over and let them get away with things.  What I have yet to perfect (after an entire 6 months of teaching) is the art of loving firmly.  To maintain order and get things accomplished while yet being kind and loving. 

If we are speaking of a battle of the wills, I can fight them to the death.  But (luckily) I realized fairly early on that it would be in my best interest to not make my entire profession into a battle of wills.  So I have to decide when to be stubborn and when to give a little.  That is still a matter that is difficult to master.  Yet regardless of that battle, I need to be charitable.  I need to be Christian.  I teach high school students and at times I can feel myself desiring to play at their level.  My feelings are hurt when they fall asleep in class, do homework for another class, roll their eyes, dismiss my ideas, and attempt to cast doubt on every aspect of the faith.  Instead of being mature, I want to roll my eyes back at them and spit out a couple perfectly formed sarcastic retorts. 

If Christ taught the Gospel of love it would seem that I should be quite proficient in it, seeing as I am teaching about Christ.  But teaching has revealed to me all sorts of weaknesses that I didn’t know I had or that I had thought were sufficiently concealed.  How would this be my mission field if I didn’t begin to see my failings and question why God placed me where He did?  I have had to remind myself several times (I should do this more, perhaps) that while God could have placed someone in my position with more knowledge and skill, He placed me here for some reason.  There is some way that He wants me to grow from this experience.  Growth hurts, it is painful.  Yet the reward is far sweeter due to the bitterness and pain.  I think of intelligent people I know (priests, nuns, lay people) and I question why I have been given the task of instructing the youth in the faith.  There are so many who could do such a better job.  Maybe this is largely the task for my sanctity, as well as their sanctity.

If teaching is my mission field, then I need to reveal Christ to them primarily through my personal Gospel of Love.  How can I convince them of the radical love of Christ if they don’t experience love from me?  Ah, the mission field!  I find myself dreaming of returning to “my” Honduras–a place I grew and loved.  But the Lord blessed me in those mission trips and made them so beautiful and easy.  Now He is sending His little daughter into the “grown-up” missionary field of a high school.  The commitment is longer, the results seem less tangible, and the people I am ministering to don’t realize it/aren’t thankful.  Quite a change from Hondurans eager to welcome us and sacrifice food and rooms for us.  But the Lord has this beautiful way of easing us into things.  He will give us sweetness and then bitterness to test our motives. 

So I go into this mission field with a heart deficient in love yet deeply desiring to excel in it.  What would a mission be without challenges?  Perhaps life is a constant learning how to love–whether it is God or neighbor.  We fail but we continue to try.  Because we were made for, by, and in Love.  Since we have received much we must go and give that to others.  Starting with that which is nearest to our hearts, which hurts the most to give when we know it may be rejected.  This battle is where I can learn to be most like Christ–being willing to love even when pushed away, rejected, crucified.  As St. Paul Miki and companions died heroically for the faith, so I am called to be martyred daily for my faith.  Impossible on my own.  But I know a great Teacher who can show me how. 

We love, because He first loved us. ~ 1 John 4:19

 St. Paul Miki and Companions, pray for us!

The Quest: To Be a Saint

A new year, some new classes, and nearly 80 new students.  Some interesting things have already transpired, some for which I suppose I asked.  I thought it would be neat if my students took a temperament test and then I could review the results and try to discover some of their characteristics quickly.  So in class I gave them the web address that I wanted them to go to take the test and it just happened to be one for Catholic Match.  I didn’t fully understand what I was setting myself up for until I was preparing to write the address on the board.  When I did, the response was typical–some chuckling, a few muffled remarks, and the overall questioning air that seemed to compel me to confess or deny their silent accusation.  I did neither, for the most part.  Perhaps the next embarrassing thing was telling them that they couldn’t do this assignment at school either, because the school had blocked the address.  At times I forget about the person of the high schooler and fail to remember that many trivial things can be made ridiculous when presented to a group of teenagers.  Another interesting thing occurred when I reviewed the syllabus and mentioned the school policy on cell phones.  In order to make it absolutely clear to them, I added a line that said that failure to comply with the rules would result in harsher penalties.  My seniors primarily glazed over that but my sophomore classes picked up on it and some wanted to know what the penalty was.  I hedged and simply told them that they didn’t really want to find out.

As I was speaking to my seniors today I tried to present the idea of sanctity to them.  I called them to become saints and to not wait for later or to assume that knowing the answers is sufficient.  As I spoke to them I realized how much of this I need to remember.  I cannot simply spend my day talking about Jesus, I must talk to Him.  The more I interact with my students, the more I realize how much further I have to grow in sanctity.  The thought came to me today that God is using this job as a way to draw me closer to Himself, that all of the challenges and problems are His way of perfecting me.  There is a lot of perfecting that needs to take place.  Today I considered my deficiency in love.  I want to love only those who like me.  Praying outside the abortion clinic in college was my initial experience of forcing myself to love in the face of intense adversity.  However, school is different.  It is much more of a marathon.  It isn’t exhilarating or enlightening to love my students in the midst of their utter humanity.  It doesn’t seem heroic, it doesn’t fill me with warm feelings, and I don’t have someone to talk to about how much I feel like I grew in the process.  Instead, it is just hard.  I don’t want to do it and I can feel myself rebel.  Loving to the point of pain.  That is my calling and yet I fail to do it so often.  I was serious when I told them that I would help sanctify them and they will help sanctify me.  Then I realize that if I truly desired to be a saint above all other desires, if my holiness was what I was concerned about more than my physical or mental health, how much more I would do to further that goal.  It is often surprising how lukewarm we can be while mistakenly thinking we are so zealous and hard-core.  How good it is that we have a God who knows the trappings of human nature because He took them on Himself.  But our desire to please Him and live for Him does please Him.  And if we are serious, we will accept the grace He offers to live out His will.

MY LORD GOD, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road, though I may know nothing about it. Therefore I will trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.
                                                                                         –Thomas Merton

If only I was "The Giver"…

Sometimes I wish I wasn’t a teacher so much as “The Giver.”  Instead of hoping they will be open to what I have to say or open to a new experience, I want to give them something.  And I don’t want them to have the option to say no.  I suppose this is one of the reasons that if I was God, I would have done things remarkably different.  I wouldn’t have done them nearly as well, of course, but as a selfish human being I would make a selfish god.  I wouldn’t let people choose to love me or reject me.  I wouldn’t offer my very self only to have it pushed back in my face.  When I offer a mere piece of my heart to someone, be it a student or otherwise, and I feel it is rejected or not fully appreciated, I pull back and desire to not surrender any soft part of my heart to anyone.  My love is still very self-centered, still very egocentric, and feeling motivated.  I would want to force people to acknowledge my greatness as they should.  We should all thank God that I am not Him.

Even on behalf of God I desire to be “The Giver” and not simply allow free will be operative in the lives of my students.  Today I told my five classes that part of class tomorrow would be spent in adoration of the Blessed Sacrament.  For at least 15 minutes in each class, we will be before Jesus.  I know I am not naturally a very emotive person and so I purposefully over-emphasized my joy so that they could see how excited I was.  The looks on their faces varied from amusement at my obvious enthusiasm to dismay at the prospect of suffering through mandatory adoration. 

I was not so naive as to assume that every student of mine would leap for joy at the prospect of spending 15 minutes in the chapel tomorrow.  While I know some of my students are glad for the occasion, the general feel of nearly every class was a picture of unwilling surrender.  They aren’t excited for tomorrow but it is a necessary consequence of going to a Catholic school.  They must suffer unwillingly through monthly mandatory Masses, morning prayer over the intercom, dress code, Theology classes, and bi-annual adoration time and Reconciliation services.  Accepting that the system will not change for them, they are resolved to not reveal any joy that might betray their distaste for the religion that is forced upon them.  Yes, that is an exaggeration for some of the students, but, unfortunately, not for a sizable faction.  Some students will write that they wish they weren’t forced to take Theology classes or go to Mass every month and I wonder to myself what they thought Catholic school should be like.  If I was to ask them, the undesired answer might be, “Nonexistent.”

So as I tried to share my joy with my students, I also spent some time talking to them about why they dislike adoration or why they find it difficult/boring.  The answers I received weren’t altogether surprising but they did reveal an aspect of the culture that I find extremely troubling.  Among the top contenders for the most popular reasons why adoration isn’t a wonderful prospect is that their minds wander, they can’t think of what they should do, and it is boring.  However, the response that seemed to draw the most agreement was that they don’t like the silence and they find it awkward.  For 15 minutes they are asked to sit silently and pray.  I do not think the silence is so difficult because they long to talk to their friends, although that is certainly a temptation for them.  I believe the silence is so difficult because they are completely unaccustomed to it.  That is troubling.  We have an entire generation, an entire world that is inundating itself with so much noise and busyness that a few minutes of silence is awkward and difficult.  No wonder they ask me why they can’t hear God speak to them or why they don’t think God is listening to them.  They haven’t even paused to listen.  To really listen.  Because when I tell them they need to be quiet and listen to the Lord, they stop to do it for a minute but then any time beyond that seems superfluous.  One of my students said that adoration didn’t need to be so long, that he could say everything he needed to in about a minute.

I don’t have the time, it seems, to teach them this silence.  I, the introverted melancholic that I am who loves silence and solitude, cannot give them the joy of stopping and being still that I am blessed enough to have.  That is why I desire to be “The Giver” and simply bestow it upon them.  So that they may simply experience what it is that I mean and not just hear about it.  I want to make them see what adoration can be like if they allow themselves to be still.  While I can still their bodies and mouths, for the most part, I cannot reach in and still their minds and souls.  They can spend 15 minutes running from the Lord’s graces while I spend that same time praying for their hearts to be open.  Yes, I would override their free will and make them accept the Lord’s graces into their lives.  Ah, but there is the problem—would I mandate love for Love?  How much greater is the joy when a student, like a little rosebud, begins to open up to the truth that he is hearing and develops a greater desire for that life-giving truth.

While I cannot make them acknowledge the God who loves them so radically, I can continue to present the Truth to them.  And I can continue to grow in how I present this truth so as to make it more appealing and more palatable to their 21st century tastes.  How much this teacher has to learn!  I cannot give them the experience of peace in the arms of Our Lord, this is true.  However, I can give them my prayers through Our Lady and Our Lord.  And those, my friends, they cannot refuse.         

Testing….1, 2, 3….

Teachers have feelings.  Perhaps that shouldn’t be a surprise, but it wasn’t until I was a teacher (which began a whole 3ish months ago) that I realized how true that is.  Teachers have feelings.  Teachers do notice when that student is being disrespectful in the most annoyingly non-verbal way possible.  They do feel the slight when the student will hardly look at them for some unknown reason or slight.  And teachers do feel the greatness of the small compliments from students. 

Yesterday I gave a test to my seniors.  The overall feeling emanating from them was one of complete dissatisfaction and annoyance.  Well, perhaps not complete, but it was highly prevalent.  What was even more mystifying was how when I was creating this test I was intentionally trying to be as easy as I could possibly bring myself to be, which granted isn’t perhaps easy but I did feel as though I was giving them a helping hand.  Yes, I made the test a bit too long, but I gave them a word bank with only the words for the questions and all the words were used only once.  I thought I was going to feel so good grading a lot of wonderful tests and watching their slightly sagging grades be buoyed up by the test.  Yes…my high idealistic tendencies were quickly deflated as I watch a student look through his test and repeatedly shake his head at the test.  It was then at 8:25 am that I realized that perhaps this test wasn’t quite the piece of cake I envisioned it to be.  Nevertheless, I read through the test again and was reassured of my goodness.  This class doesn’t particularly like me so I can chalk it up to the fact that whatever I do will be ridiculous to them. 

By the time the final class of the day rolled around, the students had heard of the “impossible” test that I had given and how “nobody finished” before the bell.  So as my 8th period students muddled through the test, I began to type an e-mail to a fellow teacher to ask her what to do when I think I made my test too difficult.  As I was thinking of how to describe the situation after the bell rang and students were still finishing their test, a student turned in his test and quietly said, “I didn’t think it was that hard.”  It was my saving grace for the moment.  It reaffirmed my convictions that I wasn’t being ridiculous.  And I wished that I could give him a hug or tell him just how much that meant to me at that particular moment.  Instead all I said was, “Oh?  Good.” 

I know that my happiness and sadness cannot rest on the students or ride on what they think of me or what the hormones racing through their bodies are influencing them to do.  But I am realizing that just because I became a teacher doesn’t mean that I am magically transformed into an adult who can handle adolescent attitude with ease or knows how to pen perfect length tests.  Too often I am convinced that when I get to a certain point I will be radically different than I am now, that I will have it all together.  As a middle schooler I thought that would happen in high school.  In high school, I was convinced I would become the person I dreamed of being in college.  And, well, now I suppose I fall into the idea that as soon as I meet Mr. Wonderful and we fall in love and are married and have nine children and one on the way that then I will be exactly the person I am to be.  The truth is that I am constantly being transformed and being made into the person I need to be.  We are all works in progress.  But my idealistic view of myself may never really come into being because perhaps that creation of my imagination is not the person that God even desires to exist.  What a pity it would be to spend all of my time racing after an image that is created in my own mind and not striving to become the person of God’s own design.

So their test, by their standards, was long and hard, an impossible task that couldn’t be completed and one they didn’t really want to.  Perhaps that is a bit like life.  At times life seems to be a journey that is impossible to do correctly and one that seems to provide more challenges than seems right.  Yet maybe if we strove to not be so focused on the present crisis that seems to be making our world collapse and more on the overall picture of what God is doing in our lives, than we would be able to face our difficulties with the knowledge that just over the hill is rest, that on the journey we are strengthened with grace. 

Now that I think about it, my test wasn’t so similar to life.  Because with life we have the tremendous benefit of having an Omniscient God who loves us entirely, knows exactly what we need, and provides us inestimable aid along the way.  So perhaps this imperfect little teacher made a mistake.  The good news is that the Divine Teacher never does.