The first year I taught school, I moved from Kansas to Spanish Lookout, Belize. I taught thirteen students in grades 1-3 at the Spanish Refugee school run by the Kleine Gemeinde Mennonites. All but one of my students were native Spanish speakers. Four knew no English. I spoke no Spanish, had never been outside of the United States before this, and knew precious little about teaching. I had never heard of writing objectives, had almost no idea how to set up a daily schedule, and was in the midst of a culture completely foreign to me. Yet, it was a good year, full of new experiences.
My co-teacher and I lived in a tiny house close to the Peter Friesen family, who bent over backwards to make this timid, inexperienced American teacher as comfortable, safe, and successful as possible. A stone’s throw away from our simple dwelling sat the Friesen’s hatchery business. I walked past it every day on my way to the schoolroom only another stone’s throw away. Stepping into my simple classroom often made me feel like I had stepped back in time. My little building had unfinished walls, old style desks with ink wells built for two students sitting side by side, no glass window panes, and, of course, no electrical outlets. It was quaint, rustic, and I happily called it mine!
While I was surrounded with good people who kindly extended both friendship and sound advice, I faced a steep learning curve. I loved teaching, loved having my own classroom, and, for the most part, enjoyed the learning process. And yet, among the many good memories of that first year, one negative memory lurks: I became exceedingly weary of always being in charge. The constant responsibility really got to me. Many mornings I cast longing glances toward the Friesen egg hatchery business on my way out to the school room and wished to change jobs for a few days. Without a doubt, I would very quickly have become bored there, but even a brief period of boredom sounded like a pleasurable switch from the incessant, wearing sense that the buck stopped with me!
Constantly being in charge of a classroom of students really is wearing. As a teacher, you can almost feel the responsibility consuming you, swallowing you up. You spend long hours shepherding the minds and hearts of other people’s children, and then, when you go home, you still continue evaluating the issues faced that day. As an encouragement to other first time teachers who, like I was, may be surprised by how very heavy that weight becomes, I quickly add that, after that first year, it lost a significant measure of its tyrannically overwhelming power.
And yet. Many teaching years later, I am still well acquainted with the deep weariness that often accompanies pouring out my soul in the classroom. Especially when I am physically tired along with being emotionally drained, I easily slip into that starved state of feeling like the bark has been eaten off my branches. I note that this draining phenomenon comes double-quick every time I either consciously or unconsciously operate from the premise that I am on my own and fully responsible to make things work. Anxiety will always plague me when I operate in the false belief that the responsibility of this classroom and these students rests solely (or almost solely) on my shoulders.
Jesus said His yoke is easy and His burden is light. How does my anxiety, and its inevitable results, fit with His words?
According to Nicodemus in John three, Jesus is the “Teacher come from heaven.” To me, that sounds like a wide-open invitation to petition Him to instruct me how to teach, and how to teach in such a way that the burden is not heavy. I don’t mean asking in a general, abstract, off-hand sort of manner, the kind that assumes that in the end it is really still is up to me to figure it out. Instead, I hear an invitation to decisively turn to Him and earnestly inquire how to respond to a particularly difficult situation (or any situation) while I am still right in the middle of it. That petitioning posture includes a conscious, deliberate, trusting attitude that then listens, waits for, and then acts upon His instructions. This trust pleases Him.
On the back wall of my classroom, I’ve posted these words with large cut-out letters: “He is here. In this moment. Now.” The purpose is to remind me that Emmanuel is always with me and that He calls me to operate in ways that enable me to experience the reality of His yoke being easy and His burden light.
Caroline Leaf, author of Switch on Your Brain, asserts that physical symptoms, such as the deep weariness that easily results from assuming too much responsibility, is actually one aspect of His great mercy. With my good in mind, He wired my body to respond negatively when I worry. These warning signals are His intentional way of drawing me to back to living in, as Dr. Leaf terms it, “the love zone.”
There are but two zones: fear and love. Living in love dispels fear, and fear has torment, with one of the torments being that desperate soul weariness. In contrast, resting in His love and presence is the foundation, the starting place for a life that is well-lived.
In response, rather than assuming that I have simply been given too much to do, I could take a look at my underlying thoughts regarding the responsibilities I am carrying. I am never alone or on my own. In fact, it is absolutely impossible for me to ever be alone. Has not God, who cannot lie, promised repeatedly that He will always be with me? As the Teacher come from Heaven, He instructs me to allow Him to carry the weight of responsibility.
It is, after all, His Kingdom I work for, not my own.
CONTRIBUTOR: Betty Yoder