Romans 8:1 “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (TNIV).
What has God been showing me recently in my profession? Well, this makes me think about an assignment that my mom recently gave me. My mom is a college English instructor, so she occasionally gives me homework; it’s her language. The homework is to write down a list of important lessons that I have learned from my job. This difficult assignment has moved me to tears and then to prayer. What I have learned this year at my job has not formed itself into a long list of nice lessons learned, but rather into a painful record of guilty charges against me.
I teach writing at a small, Christian high school, and this is my first full-time job. Teaching is popularly noted as being a thankless job, but I disagree; it is extremely rewarding to teach people ideas that they have never heard before. I love seeing improvements in my kids’ writing. Their thoughts are gifts from God, and I am grateful to hear the silent, personal voices that teenagers express on paper. At school, I expected to be quickly revered as the fun, young English genius who makes writing engaging and inspiring. Nevertheless, as I am standing up in front of the cafeteria (yes, I teach in the cafeteria) teaching forty juniors in high school about dangling modifiers and comma splices, I don’t like the sound of my own voice. The slip-ups that I occasionally construct (like making a math mistake on a grade, or passing out a worksheet twice) have been hard evidence against my teaching savvy. I am losing confidence. I feel accused.
As the year has progressed, I interact each day with unhappy parents, angry students, a confused principal and distant co-workers. There are Christian families who have tried to nearly blackmail me into giving their child an “A.” Students have written about situations that I am powerless to remedy, such as having a parent who tells them that they are worthless and that they will never amount to anything in life. Students have teamed up to see how far they can push the “new” teacher. I even got into some serious trouble for reading a supposedly heretical translation of the Bible. Kids have cheated. I have lost my temper. Students have teased each other. Parents have lied. I feel like I don’t belong. Co-workers have bailed out. I have failed.
All of this leads me back to mom’s homework assignment: What have I learned from this profession? I certainly don’t feel professional; I just feel accused.
This Saturday night, I was haunted by thoughts about a particularly hopeless classroom situation. I couldn’t get it out of my head. I envisioned all types of solutions, but none worked. Consequently, I decided to imagine my problem students away. A la the Wicked Witch of the West in the Wizard of Oz, I pictured my students melting into the ground. They melted away metaphorically, and they were out of my concern. Dripping away and gone, they were down the drain of worry and into the abyss of I-Really-Don’t-Care.
But is this what God does to us?
No. No matter how many times I write my students up by giving them a demerit, God does not write them off. No matter how many ways parents pick at me, God does not give up on me. Even though I so quickly condemn others, Christ does not condemn me. And even though I condemn the parents of my students and imagine away their problem children, Christ does not condemn us. The long list of accusations that I have collected is meaningless. The endless bulk of evidence against me in the courtroom is inconclusive. Christ does not condemn me.
We often quote John 3:16, but let’s read on. John 3:17 reads, “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him” (TNIV). Even more than the fact that Christ is not our accuser, we learn in Romans 8:32-34 that Christ is testifying on our behalf. And it is only his opinion that matters. The text says, “He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who is he that condemns? Christ Jesus, who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us” (TNIV). The charges have been collected against us, but the trial is over. Christ intercedes on our behalf as long as we entrust our lives to his care and direction.
Despite my dreams of being Super Teacher English Nerd Extraordinaire, I have decided to move on in my career. I resigned yesterday, but I resolve to finish out this school year with a spirit of resilient commitment to the task of being a teacher. I have four more months of teaching to faithfully fulfill. I promised my principal that I had spent time in prayer about this decision.
As a result of this, I will be turning this final assignment in to my English professor, my mom. What have I learned? I have discovered that I am not cut out to be a teacher right now, but more importantly, I have remembered that love keeps no record of wrongs. The small and large failures at my job are acquitted. I will also be throwing out my list of accusations against others. How can I condemn others when I know my own condition? With a clean record, I move on to complete life’s next assignment.