Saturday, October 31, 2015

To build a kingdom

When I was a younger Christian- back in my twenties- I heard and read a lot about "building God's kingdom." I didn't understand what that meant.  For one thing, as an American in the 21st century,  "kingdom" is a fairy-tail word. It makes me think of Arthur or Narnia or something. For another, I thought of"building" as something that needed to be tangible, and, for whatever reason, something that started from scratch.

I've been down and out as a Christian because of these misconceptions that I had. I thought that I needed to go to the "mission field"- wherever that place is. Or, at the very least, I'd need to start up a non-profit or something.

But now that I'm in my thirties, I have a different spin on kingdom building. And this week taught me a good lesson about it...

Teaching has been incredibly stressful this year- I shared that much in my last post. I have five preps, a challenging schedule, and I have some leadership roles that require focused attention and effort. On top of that is the added pressure to perform in such a way that nothing goes ungraded for too long, no assignment goes unposted on our school software system, each parent is informed of each failing grade, and every class in infused with Biblical worldview. You get the picture.

Anyway, this week, an unexpected challenge came my way that crushed me. I actually had to leave school for a while just to process this thing.

That's when I started to see an interesting phenomenon. It happened when I looked at my students. Teenagers are funny, you know? They're pretty self-focused a lot of the time (that's not a judgement, it's part of their brain chemistry at that age) but when they catch sight of an adult in tears, they're kind of stunned.

I remember this happening to me back in high school. Probably the most memorable day of all my years at Fayetteville Academy was the day my English teacher cried as she sat on her stool in front of our class and told us about her son, who had recently been diagnosed with autism. As a student, you think your teacher is an impenetrable force. A person who delights in marking problems wrong and has nothing else to do but sit around grading papers. But the moment you see that teacher start to waver, your reality is spun upside down.

Maybe some students felt that way watching me leave school this week. I didn't share details about my challenge as Mrs. Kizer did, it wouldn't have been the wise thing to do. But they knew I was stressed and what I picked up just from looking at their little faces was- "I hope you are okay. Please be okay."

I wasn't okay. I was in a dark, angry, frustrated, want-to-give-up place. And in the midst of that place, my BSF lesson had me read Ephesians 4. I didn't even want to read it because I knew what was in there... "Be completely humble and gentle... in your anger, do not not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs."

Let me tell you, I am far from being a super-clean Christian, particularly these days. Unwholesome talk flows from my mouth when I get stressed or don't make time to spend with God daily. And I, like many other Christians, am truly weary of choosing to obey Christ while other people just do their own thing. It's hard to stay motivated to work for Jesus when people don't own their end of the mess and still proclaim to be His. I have no strength, and you have to be strong to be a builder. So I asked God for His strength as I drove to work the next day.

And He gave it. The stressful situation completely resolved, and, not only that, was turned into an opportunity to sit together with some colleagues and do that "kingdom building" I was talking about at the beginning of the post. Only, I understand it a little better now. Each day, I have an opportunity to build up other people. I don't have to move to Africa or start a non-profit. Some people do, but it's not a requirement for being a Kingdom builder. I can choose to give focused attention, loving words, and patient understanding to teenagers. I can choose to put work aside and give Andy a hug, or sing Story a song. I can teach a lesson about the brain and I can choose to marvel at God's creativity. I can pause and actually check in with my co-workers. Those are the things that I can build. And this kind of building is hard work.

The end result is pretty cool, though. When you're committed to building, and other people around you are committed to building, too, then those stunned teenage faces can relax. They come to realize that you are going to be okay. And there's a tiny piece of them that is a little more okay because you are okay. And, Lord willing, there will be a time and a place to share how Ephesians 4 and God's Spirit had everything to do with that.

So on I go. Until the next challenge comes. Maybe, the next time I'm feeling the pain that comes with this occupation, I'll ask God to remind me that I'm not just a teacher- I'm a builder.

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