“Who is a missionary?” I asked my class, not too long ago.
They came up with a variety of answers: someone who preaches in a foreign country, someone who has very little, someone who doesn’t make money, and the list continued.
It was difficult for them to wrap it all up neatly. Several wanted to insist that you had to leave the country. I think it was because it fit their idea of a missionary better. Flying to a foreign country steeped in poverty seems far more missionary-esque than serving on a college campus.
“FOCUS sends people to college campus and calls them missionaries. Are they?” “Do they get paid?” “They fundraise their salary.”
Many were on board with that. But for them, there had to be some type of leaving happening–going to a new place, even if they would begrudgingly accept work in the United States.
“What does a missionary do?” I asked. “Preach the Gospel.” “So who could be a missionary?” They discussed for a while. One said, “You?” “Am I a missionary?”
The whole issue of pay came up again, some saying that would disqualify me from missionary status.
This past week, one of my classes watched a movie about the life of Mother Teresa. At one point, right after Mother Teresa had left the Loreto convent, she was shown clearing out her room at a host family’s house. The owner told her they had a lot of spare furniture she was welcomed to use during her time with them. She responded by saying that she needed simplicity so that nothing would distract her from her work with the poor.
I don’t know if that scene happened exactly like that in real life, but her words struck me. Even if she didn’t say that, her life showed that she lived that reality. Perhaps even more impressive, though, was the idea that simplicity gives freedom. It wasn’t a new concept to me, but it was a new concept when I considered it in light of the saint of the slums. Mother Teresa needed poverty in order to be committed to caring for the poor. That may not seem profound to you, but hearing those words evoked a question within me: what makes me think I have more discipline than Mother Teresa?
Her God-given mission was to help the poor. Knowing her own humanity, she knew she had to give up creature comforts in order to remain focused on her mission. Her life of poverty provided the freedom to be generous and sacrificial with her life and time. Material items distract. Compelled by the love and thirst of God, Mother Teresa knew she could not afford to be distracted by lesser things. She created space in her life that could be filled by the presence of God. Fewer possessions crowding her heart yielded greater room to the concerns of the Lord.
Do you know what it takes to get a compliment from a senior? You keep them after class under the threat of a detention and listen to them try to get out of it.
Some students are just harder to love than others. It isn’t impossible to love them, but the effort that goes into desiring to love them is significantly more. So when a student that fits in this category pushes matters too far, I have to reflect more about the consequences that behavior should incur. Because part of me wants to go all out and give them a harsh consequence. The cumulation of past difficulties with that student or the tension of the particular day must all be weighed to guarantee that the punishment given fits that individual crime.
Yet I’m certain that just as some students are harder by nature to love, some teachers must fall into the same camp. I can definitely acknowledge that I’m not the most loved teacher and I am pretty convinced that I never will be. That doesn’t generally bother me because I’ve experienced life in a rather similar state. High school and college didn’t find me as the most popular person around; therefore, I didn’t expect something magical to happen when I started teaching.
Despite not being the most loved, I do find comfort in being loved by some. As an introvert, that is all I really need anyway–a few people who see under the often reserved exterior. Those glimpses of love and appreciation from students does far more to boost me than they know. At the end of the school year, a student stopped in with a present for me and she thanked me for my patience over the past year. A few students wrote appreciation letters when given the chance for teacher appreciation week. Another student chose to write his own addition to the journal entries I assigned.
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….
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”→
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.