When Small-Hearted Meets Magnanimous

When Small-Hearted Meets Magnanimous

Small talk isn’t really my thing.

In fact, I  have respect for people who have the gift of being able to chat about different things casually.  Some of the students I know better are easier to talk to, but I have to force myself to generate conversation with others.

The other day, I asked a student how his snow day was the previous day.  His lack of response prompted me to say semi-teasingly, “Come on!”  To which he responded with an annoyed, “No.”

Suddenly, frustration and anger filled me.  Here I was, making an effort and he couldn’t even give the common courtesy of responding to a non-invasive question.  I wasn’t asking him to share the depths of his soul, just to have him share about something from the previous day.

While small talk doesn’t come easily, quick retorts generally do.  So I struggled to keep back all of the sharp responses I wanted to give and I forced myself to continue to acknowledge him during the rest of class, even though I childishly wanted to ignore him.  I had the desire to demonstrate to him just how rude he was being…by being equally rude myself.  You have a question?  Too bad, I don’t want to answer you, just like you didn’t want to answer me.

I didn’t do those things, yet I am continually surprised how deeply small-heartedness is ingrained in me.  God is justice and mercy, but I naturally favor justice.  Old Testament eye-for-an-eye justice.  It isn’t what I want to receive, but it is definitely what I want to mete out. Continue reading “When Small-Hearted Meets Magnanimous”

To Be A Disciple Is To Be A Contemplative

To Be A Disciple Is To Be A Contemplative

There is little doubt, then, that the disciple will spend the greater part of his time and effort, not ‘doing God’s work’, but simply in yielding to the work God wants to do in him.  No one can be a disciple without first being a contemplative.  The heart of Jesus’ intention in choosing his followers is that they might be with him: above all, Jesus wants to share his life with us, and this too—the longing to be with Jesus—should be the gravitational pull to which all our desires should hasten….

The Way of the Disciple, Erasmo Leiva-Merikakis

This reminder of the true order of life is necessary as I near the end of the semester and as I consider my role as a high school teacher.  The most important thing is not doing more but in being in the transformative presence of Our Lord.  St. Teresa of Calcutta spent hours in front of the Blessed Sacrament.  I heard it said that when they were overwhelmed with work, she would instruct the sisters to spend more time in prayer, not less.  She knew her littleness and her dependence on God in a tangible way, enabling her to acknowledge her limits and radical need for God.

In college, I had a taste of short-term missionary work as I participated in a mission trip every spring break.  I loved seeing how the Lord provided for us in the midst of mission and the experience of going out to preach the Gospel was enlivening.  While we offered different assistance to people, I discovered that much of the fruit of the mission was the internal change in me.  Simplicity had a more beautiful sound as I encountered people in extreme poverty who were filled with great joy.  There was a greatness found in traveling, meeting others, and sharing the joy of the Gospel with them.

It is a greatness that I desire to find in every mission.  As a missionary of the classroom, it is easy to lose sight of the goal.  Students turn in late work, homework/tests must be graded, schedules must be followed, and the list of responsibilities goes on.  In the chaos, it takes very little for the mission to become a job and the job to become “just get through today” and so on.  Instead, I desire to view my work as long-term missionary work.  I’ve been in the trenches for over five years and I must strive to remember that I have really good news to proclaim to everyone, attentive or not.  And, what I’m probably the worst at, I am called to serve my co-missionaries and be a witness of Christ to them. Continue reading “To Be A Disciple Is To Be A Contemplative”

A Grateful Mission

A Grateful Mission

Like a mother who gushes with affection over a sleeping child, I often feel particularly fond for my students when they are taking tests.  They seem so quiet, so studious, and so devoted to the task at hand that I find myself gazing at their little, intent faces and being so thankful to be a teacher.

In all honesty, that isn’t the only moment I am thankful to teach, but it is one continually recurring theme.  Moments of quiet, moments of humor, and moments of profound learning make me grateful to teach.  The inside jokes we share and the relationships that are built over time make me thankful to interact with so many high school students.  When I am able to step back from the late papers, endless questions, and constant repetition of directions, I see young people seeking.  Seeking just like I am–for happiness, for joy, for love, for peace, for life.  When I see that perspective, I am grateful for the time to be with them, accompanying them for a short while on their journey to eternity.

It makes me wonder if I have any type of impact.  This little heart inside of me longs so much for a great mission.  And then I remember that I teach.  I interact with young people daily and if that isn’t the rich soil for a great mission, I don’t know what is.  Grades, dress codes, and attitudes can make me forget the mission that is in front of me every day.  Yet every now and then, I will get a glimpse of what God might be doing in souls.  I see that perhaps my littleness might be in the midst of something great right now and completely unaware of it all.

Still, the heart longs to know a difference is being made.  Thankfully, God gives me reminders in little moments.  There is enough to assure me that it isn’t for nothing and yet little enough so that it doesn’t all go to my head.  It is found in class camaraderie when one class writes me up for a detention when I return a little late for class.  I see it in a small group of women who enter into conversation about pursuing true beauty.  It is experienced in random after school conversations and hearing that my class is teaching something.  The look on some students faces as we tackle the problem of evil and honestly question how a good God could allow awful things to happen.  Brief moments, easy to pass by, but ones that remind me that something is happening here and now.

It isn’t because of me.  It is because of God’s grace.  Continue reading “A Grateful Mission”

Longing for Greatness

Longing for Greatness

I’ve always longed for greatness.  Not in the sense that everyone knows me or that I’m famous.  Rather, I have always desired a great mission or task in life.  I want to contribute something to the world and I want it to impact people.  This weekend I watched The Courageous Heart of Irena Sendler and I was re-filled with the desire to pursue greatness.

Irena Sendler was a young Polish woman who lived during the time of World War II.  She was a social worker, but her work went far beyond her simple job title.  During the time that the Jewish people were being relocated to the ghettos and then to “work camps,” Irena worked tirelessly to smuggle children to safety.  Risking her life, she worked with a courageous group to secretly save children by tucking them into tool boxes, packing them into boxes, or hiding them in vehicles.  Later caught, she endured torture and was nearly killed, all the while never giving up any secrets.

In total, it is said that Irena Sendler and companions helped to save 2,500 Jewish children in Poland.  The children were placed with convents or families throughout Poland.  She kept meticulous records of who their parents were and where they were placed in the hopes that families would be reunited after the war.  This young woman quietly changed the world and, initially, received little recognition for it.  She was awarded Righteous Among the Nations in 1965 and later named an honorary citizen of Israel in 1991.  In 2007, she was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.  However, for most of her life she lived with little acclaim or notoriety for her heroic actions and sacrifices.

While I do not hope for concentration camps or totalitarian regimes, this is the greatness for which I long.  I look at her life and I see a greatness that goes beyond one person.  Yet the greatness that I see and anyone can see who looks at her life was not recognized by Irena herself.  She did not see herself as a hero or seem pleased with her accomplishments.  Instead, she said that she could have done more to save more children. Continue reading “Longing for Greatness”

George Bailey

I never really associated myself with George Bailey.  “It’s a Wonderful Life” is a classic movie, but I’ve always viewed it as a movie, not something that seemed to speak into my own life.  A couple days ago I re-watched it.  Apparently, the wanderlust desire to see the world and do incredible things is more an aspect of the human condition rather than my generation.  So I watched the classic film, shed some tears, and realized that the longing George Bailey had was fiercely beating within my own heart.

I’m shakin’ the dust of this crummy little town off my feet and I’m gonna see the world. Italy, Greece, the Parthenon, the Colosseum. Then, I’m comin’ back here to go to college and see what they know. And then I’m gonna build things. I’m gonna build airfields, I’m gonna build skyscrapers a hundred stories high, I’m gonna build bridges a mile long…

As high school neared its end, I was never one of the students who couldn’t wait to get out of the small town.  It just happened to be that I chose a school hundreds of miles away from home and was only able to come back for Christmas and summer breaks.  When college was finished, I moved back home because moving far away for a job seemed strange to me.  Now I’m in my fourth year of teaching high school and I live about thirty minutes from where I spent my childhood.

Young adult life is filled with many different experiences, but I keep coming back to a desire to pursue greatness, a desire that filled George Bailey his entire life.  He wanted to see the world, to travel, to build structures that will last years, and to pursue adventure.  Yet he ends up spending his life in Bedford Falls, a seemingly idyllic town that feels like a prison if one doesn’t want to spend the entirety of one’s life there.

Any place can feel like a prison, though, if one is constantly desiring to be elsewhere.  The greatness found in the little and the simple can be overlooked so quickly.  St. John Vianney would spend hour after hour in the confessional.  Looking at his life from my vantage point, I can see how much fruit his life of simple faithfulness bore.  Yet in that moment of waking up early to say Mass and then spend the whole day in the confessional, he might not have felt this aura of greatness surrounding himself.  St. John Bosco rallied together the poor street children from Turin and taught them how to be men.  In the daily grind of loving them in the midst of their flaws, he might not have recognized the monumental work he was doing.

And I teach.  It isn’t much.  My younger sister was watching “Freedom Writers” with me and she said each time she watched the movie, she thought of me as the teacher.  I am laughably not like Mrs. Gruwell.  I’m not taking on extra jobs to buy supplies for my students or going to bat for them against a racist administration or devoting all my time to helping them graduate from high school.  There are many teachers who spend hours with their students after school as they guide them through problems (academic or otherwise) and leave this deep impression on their very beings as an adult who cared and sacrificed for them.  I am not that teacher.

During finals, one of my students walked into my classroom with a card.  She told me she was giving me this card because she was thankful that I would go over the study guides with her before tests.  All I did was spend fifteen to twenty minutes after school with her the day before the test to review her answers and go over any questions she had.  But the gesture she made was worth ten cards.  Hidden within that quiet exchange, one done without any fanfare or balloons, was the greatness I am seeking.

Greatness is found in the simple, in the little.  I’ve written about this before.  I write about it again not to convince you, but to convince myself.  As a teacher, affirmations are few and far between.  Even if administration affirms your work, you want to hear it from those you spend day after day with.  Students are unaware how powerful their words are about their teachers.  I don’t need their support or affirmation, but I love it when I receive it.  It means something is sinking in, something is being passed from my soul to theirs.  I don’t have state standardized tests to rely on as a Theology teacher.  I want to know if they know the Lord, rather than if they can ace my tests.  That is when I know that I am successful.

George Bailey wanted a blazing kind of greatness, one that tears through towns and astounds people.  What he finds instead is the greatness of enduring friendships, believing in the dreams of others, helping others pursue human dignity, and building a family that bands together.  A greatness that his father pursued in that very town.

There is greatness in simplicity.  There is simple greatness.  There is unassuming greatness.  Perhaps greatness is found not in doing wild things or going to exotic places but in doing what you do to the best of your ability.  Maybe greatness is simply living your own life well, even if you remain unaware of the impact it makes on the lives of others.

Pa Bailey: I know it’s soon to talk about it.
George Bailey: Oh, now Pop, I couldn’t. I couldn’t face being cooped up for the rest of my life in a shabby little office… Oh, I’m sorry Pop, I didn’t mean that, but this business of nickels and dimes and spending all your life trying to figure out how to save three cents on a length of pipe… I’d go crazy. I want to do something big and something important.
Pa Bailey: You know, George, I feel that in a small way we are doing something important. Satisfying a fundamental urge. It’s deep in the race for a man to want his own roof and walls and fireplace, and we’re helping him get those things in our shabby little office.
George Bailey: I know, Dad. I wish I felt… But I’ve been hoarding pennies like a miser in order to… Most of my friends have already finished college. I just feel like if I don’t get away, I’d bust.
Pa Bailey: Yes… yes… You’re right son.
George Bailey: You see what I mean, don’t you, Pop?
Pa Bailey: This town is no place for any man unless he’s willing to crawl to Potter. You’ve got talent, son. I’ve seen it. You get yourself an education. Then get out of here.
George Bailey: Pop, you want a shock? I think you’re a great guy.