Faith that Works

Teaching middle schoolers how to live and practice their faith

“After he had taken the body down, he wrapped it in a linen cloth and laid him in a rock-hewn tomb in which no one had yet been buried.”
Luke 23:53

Sometimes after a long battle with illness, there is some small relief in knowing that your loved one is not longer in pain. When I think of this last sorrow of Mary, I wonder if she felt some relief knowing that her son’s agony was finally over. I wonder if she was able to fully trust his promise that he would return to the Father and if she really believed that he was at peace. For me, it’s hard to trust when I feel like I have to buried a treasured hope or dream. It feels final to admit that something isn’t going to happen, or at least not yet.

Not yet. That is the promise that is present in the tomb on Good Friday and Holy Saturday. There will be triumph and joy and reunion, but not yet. There will be a complete reworking of the way things are, but not yet.

A few years ago on a retreat I was invited to meditate on Jesus’s time in the tomb and imagine what that time was like. Today I am going to spend some time meditating on Mary’s time of waiting while Jesus was in the tomb. She had to put all of her faith and trust in the broken body of her son, and let him rest. I too have to let certain hopes and dreams to rest with Jesus and have faith and trust that he will rework them in his time and in his way, and I too will experience that triumph and joy.

Not yet. Soon.

Questions for reflection:
What hopes and dreams might I be called to let rest for a time so I can wait for God’s plan in my life?
Where do I need a sense of joy and triumph in my life?
In what situations is God saying to me “Not yet. Soon.”?

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After this, Joseph of Arimathea, secretly a disciple for fear of the Jews, asked Pilate if he could remove the body of Jesus. And Pilate permitted it. So he came and took his body.”
John 19: 38

Although not strictly portrayed in scripture, I love the image of the Pieta, which is the background image for all the quotes in this series. As I write this post, I have been watching live coverage of the fire in Notre Dame. By the time this posts, we will know the extent of the damage, but as I write we don’t. The images of the iconic church in flames bring to me this image of Our Lady, Notre Dame, holding the broken body of her son in her arms. She didn’t know in that moment the joy that would be coming soon. Instead, she was left to behold the complete destruction of the greatest love in her life.

As a teacher, there are are moments that feel like an incomprehensible failure. When we see our students engage in destructive and self-destructive behaviors, it’s heartbreaking. When we see teachers, parents, administrators acting in ways that hurt us and hurt our students, we can wonder if there is even the potential of success. Right now in my own life, I feel like teaching and my dedication to my job has broken or damaged some of my most important relationships. I have to trust that the work I am doing to shift priorities will ultimately pay off. Teaching requires a lot of faith in yourself, your students, and you family to understand why all these other people hold such an important place in your heart.

Last year a former student came to see me. Our relationship when she was in my class had been strained at best, and combative at times. When she left my class at the end of 8th grade, I knew for sure I had failed her as a teacher. She struggled through high school and was struggling with life post high school. I was shocked, and to be honest, a little worried when she asked if she could come talk to me. When we sat down she said, “I feel like I am losing my faith, and I know that you always wanted what is best for me. Can you help me figure out what to do next?” This was a student who I thought could never see how much I cared for her and her struggles.

Hang in there teachers! Easter (and the end of the school year!) is coming!

Questions for reflection:
Have I ever seen God turn failures into successes?
Can I trust God to work through even my most difficult seasons of life?
What failures and heartbreaks am I holding onto that I could surrender to God?

When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple there whom he loved, he said to his mother, “Woman, behold your son.” Then he said to the disciple, “Behold your mother.” And from that hour the disciple took her into his home.
After this, aware that everything was now finished, in order that the scripture might be fulfilled, Jesus said, “I thirst.” There was a vessel filled with common wine. So they put a sponge soaked in wine on a sprig of hyssop and put it up to his mouth. When Jesus has taken the wine, he said “It is finished.” And bowing his head, he handed over the spirit.
John 19: 26-30

I’ve always been told that this is the moment Christ gave us Mary to be our mother as the church, and so I always loved these last words of Christ. Last year I wrote about this in my detail, but I saw these words echoed in a beautiful way last winter when my father-in-law was preparing for heaven after a heroic battle with cancer. When he gathered the family to explain that the cancer was back and that this time he was not going to pursue full treatment, his only concern was for his wife. “Take care of mom,” he told us.

In some ways, when parents drop their children off at school in the morning, they are giving us this same sort of message. For the next seven hours, behold your son, behold your daughter. From the very first hours of the school year, we take those students into our classrooms, and into our hearts. We feed them emotionally, spiritually, mentally, creatively, and oftentimes even physically. In a concrete way, we act as Christ for our students.

One of the hardest things in my teaching career, especially in the last few years, is the fact that we are expected as teachers to do all those things, and often given little to no support from the parents who entrust their children to us. While I don’t want to bash parents, it can be hard to care for children when they are told over and over that the consequences of their actions are not their responsibility or that the authority of the teacher doesn’t command respect. Our job doesn’t change though, so we keep trying our best to hold students accountable and continue to act as Christ in the best way we can.

My prayer today is for teachers, parents and students to all work together in the important job of education. I pray for teachers who feel like they are at odds with the families of their students, and for increased understanding and better communication in difficult situations. I pray that you would feel affirmed in your role as a teacher, student, or parent and empowered to take others into your heart with compassion.

Questions for reflection:
What are some ways I have been like the beloved apostle, taking my students into my classroom and my life?
How have I been like Mary, mentored and cared for by someone who loves me?
Is God calling me to take another teacher, coworker, friend into my life in some deeper way?

A large crowd of people followed Jesus, including many women who mourned and lamented him.
Luke 23:27

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I’ve always loved the tradition of the Stations of the Cross. When I was growing up, my school would gather on Friday mornings to pray them all together, and every Holy Week the moms and daughters on my street would get together and pray a version told from the point of view of Mary. It’s still my favorite version to pray. You can find it here.* During Lent it’s wonderful to get to pray the Stations with my students for many reasons, but probably my top two are that many of my students have never had the experience before and the other is that it adds so much depth to the story of Jesus’s passion.

The fourth station, and also the fourth sorrow of Mary, are not actually found in the Biblical accounts of the Passion of Jesus, but like Veronica and the falls, they add an important element to our understanding of Jesus and his relationships with others. This fourth sorrow shows us a mother who cannot leave her child alone in his suffering.

Compassion means “to suffer with”, which I think accurately shows how a parent or teacher feels about their child suffering. I have seen an incredibly beautiful example of compassion in my sister Kristin and niece. For the past 17 years, Kristin has walked with her daughter along the journey of pediatric brain tumors. She has waited in countless hospitals, raised thousands of dollars for research, advocated for government support of children with tumors and never stopped fighting for a cure for her daughter. She has dealt with the pain of watching helplessly as her child dealt with something so terrible many of us can’t even imagine it. She has met her child on the road to Calvary over and over again, and never lost her faith or love along the way. She truly inspires me.

My prayer today is for all those, who like Mary, are suffering with someone today. For all the parents who watch their children deal with mental and physical illnesses, for all the teachers who see the brokenness in their students and feel helpless to change anything, and for all the caregivers who selflessly suffer with those battling debilitating illness.

Questions for reflection:
How do I meet Christ on the road to Calvary? In my family members? In my students? In my own struggles with addiction or illness?
Is God calling me to “suffer with” someone? How can I reach out to this person today?
How can I support other teachers, moms, caregivers or those who walk with others in their suffering?

*This is an affiliate link. This means if you click through and purchase something using my link, I receive a small commission at no cost to you.

Each year his parents went to Jerusalem for the feast of Passover, and when he was twelve years old, they went up according to festival custom. After they had completed its days, as they were returning, the boy Jesus remained behind in Jerusalem, but his parents did not know it. Thinking that he was in the caravan, they journeyed for a day and looked for him among their relatives and acquaintances, but not finding him, they returned to Jerusalem to look for him.

After three days they found him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions, and all who heard him were astounded at his understanding and his answers. When his parents saw him, they were astonished, and his mother said to him, “Son, why have you done this to us? Your father and I have been looking for you with great anxiety.”

And he said to them, “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” But they did not understand what he said to them. He went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them; and his mother kept all these things in her heart
Luke 2:41-51

When I was in college, my niece was about three years old, and one of the cutest kids you will ever meet. She had a great imagination and loved to play. When she would get mad, she would find herself a quiet place to calm down and play until she was ready to interact with people again. One day, i remember my sister coming into my parents’ kitchen, completely frantic. My three year old niece was missing! We searched for what seemed like hours, and were getting ready to start calling others to help when we found her: she was peacefully sleeping underneath my sister’s bed!

One of my biggest heartaches in teaching has been the students I have “lost”. These are the students who for one reason or another leave my class throughout the year, or worse yet, stay in class but are never really “there”. A few years ago I had a really challenging student who I loved, but was so desperately angry that nothing I said could have any impact. I spend so much time and energy wondering what I could have done differently, and often times am left feeling empty, anxious, and like a failure.

A verse from First Corinthians has helped me with these feelings of anxiety and failure. Paul writes, “I planted, Apollos watered, but God caused the growth.” (1 Corinthians 3:6) There’s something freeing about knowing that I am only a small step in the teaching equation. I plant, the students water, but God causes the growth. And sometimes seeds can lie dormant for many years before flourishing into beautiful plants. My students are cared for by a God who sees the lost from a long way off and is moved by compassion. (Luke 15:20) All I have to do, like Mary, is be faithful to my role in God’s plan.

My prayer today is for all the students we’ve “lost” along the way. I pray that they would find the things that ignite their passions and lead them to Christ. I pray for the teachers who feel discouraged and anxious, desperately looking for the answers to the problems they face in their classrooms. I pray that we would trust like Mary, and keep our students in our hearts, trusting that God will cause the growth.

Questions for reflection:
What in my life is causing me great anxiety right now? How is God present in this situation?
Who are some students I have “lost” during my years of teaching? Pause to offer a prayer for these students.
How is God calling me to trust more in my work and personal life? What is God asking me to surrender so that he can cause growth?

“When the days were completed for their purification according to the law of Moses, they took him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord, just as it is written in the law of the Lord, “Every male that opens the womb shall be consecrated to the Lord,” and to offer the sacrifice of “a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons,” in accordance with the dictate of the law of the Lord.
Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon. This man was righteous and devout, awaiting the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. It had been revealed to him by the holy Spirit that he should not see death before he had seen the Messiah of the Lord. He came in the Spirit into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus to perform the custom of the law in regard to him, he took him into his arms and blessed God, saying:
“Now, Master, you may let your servant go in peace, according to your word, for my eyes have seen your salvation, which you prepared in sight of all the peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and glory for your people Israel.
The child’s father and mother were amazed at what was said about him; and Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, “Behold, this child is destined for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be contradicted (and you yourself a sword will pierce) so that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.”
Luke 2:22-35

Every summer, my parents would send my siblings and me to two weeks of Catholic sleep away camp in the mountains of Pennsylvania. We did all the normal camp things: boating, swimming, getting too much sun and too many bug bites, etc. We also did many non-typical camp things: Eucharistic Adoration and processions, as well as daily mass and prayer opportunities. As I got older, I also worked as a counselor at the camp, and in doing so was introduced to the beautiful words of Simeon in the Liturgy of the Hours, which the counselors would pray together after our campers were asleep. While we didn’t sing the words Simeon prophesies for Mary, as I type this reflection, I can hear the haunting melody of chanted night prayers in the back of my mind.

Recently I was cleaning my two year old’s room and came across a pile of brightly colored paper onesies that my students had made for me when I was on maternity leave. While there was lots of advice not to drop him (I try not to be offended by their lack of faith), there were several really heartfelt notes from students, including assurances that I would be a great mom and they were so excited to see what this new part of my life would look like. No dire prophecies of swords piercing me or my son being a sign of contradiction.

Every parent reading this knows that Simeon’s words spoken to Mary were not just true for her. Being a parent is simultaneously the most wonderful and most heartbreaking job ever. So is being a teacher. To all you brave and caring souls who are teaching for the first year, eleventh year or fortieth year, you know the million ways that this job pierces you yourself. From the phone calls we make about abusive situations to the conversations where students let it slip that they don’t have enough food on the weekends, there are countless days where you want to sit in a heap and just cry. Like Mary, we keep all these things, all these precious students in our hearts, and it hurts.

As we begin this Holy Week, my prayer for you is that God shows you all the ways you are not alone with your pierced heart full of love for your students. As we walk with Mary through the next week I pray that you feel the love and support of our Blessed Mother, but also that you concretely feel the love and support of your school community as you take on the many times piercing work of being a sign of contradiction in a society that minimizes the amazing work you do every day.

Questions for reflection:
How has teaching pierced me myself this year? Can I give the pain to God? Is there a way I could offer that suffering for others?

How can I support others who are going through times of piercing sorrow? Is there someone God is calling me to reach out to today?

Who has journeyed with my through my times of sorrow? Did I thank them? Maybe I can pray for them today.

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