Prayer of the Teacher


Not a Good Day

“The directions say I am supposed to find fourteen adverbs in this story,” she said. “I only found three of them, two not’s and one very.”

I was tired of this day and of this conversation, and inwardly I rolled my eyes. Of course, she would recall the words that always are adverbs and forget the rest of the lesson. And of course, she would try to get me to do the work of remembering for her.

“What question do adverbs answer? Look for the verb, then you just have to ask yourself…” I prompted.

“…Which one?” my daughter asked in the hesitant tone of voice reserved for pure guesses. We had gone around and around parts of speech, particularly adverbs, and I couldn’t think of any fresh ways to make it stick. They seemed pretty straight-forward to me. I took a deep breath and repeated my admonition a little louder in the special tone of voice reserved for martyrdom during language class. “Look for the verb first,” I emphasized, but I wanted to say, “Come on. I must have told you this a hundred times. Just pull out the information and use it!”

It had not been a brilliant day in the school department. I knew it, and the children knew it. They were scatterbrained during spelling and positively plodding during flash cards. They lost papers and broke pencils and had to go to the bathroom and get more drinks in a predictable cycle. They forgot rules and broke them. Now we faced an uncomprehending blank in the parts of speech, and I was just plain weary of all the work, the repeated instruction, the endless day that couldn’t seem to get done.

I knew we could pick up the unfinished work again on the next day. The feeling of having lost ground went deeper than neglected assignments.

I had to be honest: the issues that had seemed to snowball, complete with personality clashes and a slightly shrill tone of voice coming from the teacher, were largely my problem. Although I was the grown-up in charge of the school day, I found myself facing off with things I couldn’t stand about these little people that I loved. I knew I had trampled impatiently on feelings and been unkind in my words. The first step back into fellowship was obvious: I gathered the children, apologized for the way I had spoken to them, and dismissed them to play. They lit up happily, and tore outside, gleefully abandoning adverbs and teacher both.

Teacher Time-out

It was sweet of them to be so forgiving, but I needed to get a better perspective, be taught by someone much wiser than me.  As I was praying and thinking about the day just past, I turned to the prayer of Moses in Deuteronomy 32. Verses two and three had become categorized in my head as “The Prayer of the Teacher.”

 “May my teaching drop as the rain,

my speech distill as the dew,

like gentle rain upon the tender grass,

and like showers upon the herb.

For I will proclaim the name of the Lord;

ascribe greatness to our God!”

This was the introduction to Moses’ last song just before God instructed him to go up to Mount Nebo to look at the Promised Land before he died. If you read the entire song, you hear Moses telling the people that he was well aware of their rebellious tendencies. He knew they were going to walk away from God after he died. He also remembered the provocation of their complaining that day he lost it and hit the rock.

If any teacher/leader ever had a reason to be aggravated beyond all endurance, Moses did. Yet here he was, praying that his words would fall “like gentle rain upon tender grass” in his very last address to these exasperating people.

 Moses and Me

As a parent and a teacher, I find myself talking a lot. There are daily opportunities to respond with forbearance or to drop sarcasm like icy pellets of sleet. I find the strongest trigger to impatience when I am trying to convey an idea that I really love, and I am met with indifference or even resistance.

I can’t imagine the amazing things Moses knew after his lengthy meetings with God, but it didn’t seem to make a lot of difference to the recalcitrant people under his care. I am guessing there were times when Moses wished he could bellow out some pithy truths before finding a solitary place with a nice flock of sheep to mind.

Someone once said that every word and action is a statement of faith. The question that needs to be answered is this: do I believe that the power of Jesus within me is sufficient to exercise kindness in the face of the most irksome circumstances? Why, yes, I do!  My children know when they have messed up. Sometimes I catch that expression in their eyes, “Oh, no, now I have really done it. I wonder what she is going to say.” It stops me in my tracks as I think of the tender grass, and I take care with my words. I am making Moses’ prayer my own, and it is helping me to speak graciously.

May my words be the supernatural kind that “ascribe greatness to our God.”

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