Breaking the Habit of Condemnation

This semester I am temporarily in charge of a 9th grade English classroom through my student teaching experience. It’s been such a joy spending everyday with my students I am continually building relationships with. My supervising teacher has given me full responsibility over the classroom, which along with its challenges, has been an incredible learning and growing opportunity.

I spend my days with 157 freshman. Crazy? Yes, but also a complete blast. I’ve loved getting to know their individual personalities and passions. It’s incredible what students are capable of when you give them opportunities to unlock their potential.

But through these opportunities through discussions and free-writes and an interactive classroom is room for chaos. My students are still learning to filter what they say and in that process comes the need for me to step in and point out what is appropriate and inappropriate to voice in a classroom for the benefit of the group.

During one of my class periods in the middle of the day a girl with a wild and exuberant personality was getting a little too excited during the lesson, speaking out frequently at inappropriate times. After several warnings, she was sent in the hall to take a break. During a lapse in the lesson, I went out to talk to her.

I found her sitting on the ground outside of the classroom, her back against the wall and her arms around her knees. She slumped her head towards the ground, defeated.

I asked her what was going on and before I had a chance to finish my words she propelled into a long narrative explaining how she was trying so hard to stop talking so much in her classes but it was hard in this one because her friends were in there. She told me that she had shut down in every other class, she had reached her goal in those classes with those teachers but she kept failing at it in our class.

I watched her condemn herself, beating herself up because she had failed at her goal of shutting down. I watched her with a heavy heart, relating to her because I had been in that place too, the place of consistent self-condemnation after doing something wrong.

I thank the Lord for giving me the words to say next because in the moments that followed I was able to speak life into her. I affirmed her incredible, animated personality because it brought life to the class and to see her shut down would be tragic.

I told her never to diminish who she was. Instead, we were going to pick up the pieces and work together to refine what she said aloud; we were going to work towards her goal of filtering her words while still encouraging her to pursue her extraverted and passionate self. She lifted her head up and nodded at me as I reached out my hand and helped her up. She walked back in the class with her head held high.

I think back to my student sitting on the ground, outwardly condemning herself because she had gotten a little off track. I thought about how many times I had found myself in her place, beating myself down when I messed up, when I was a little too excited or fired up or awkward. When I said something I shouldn’t have or knowingly missed the mark.

I thought about the words I tell myself in those moments, the words of condemnation that create so much shame, so much embarrassment to the point where I shut down. I become the girl in the hall, curling up to repress who I am and what I love because I had been a little too much or too little in that moment.

Living in a society where perfection is desired, we become numb to the self-condemnation. It struck me how often we tear ourselves down inside, how we try to convince ourselves to drastically change who we are because of one small mishap.

In these moments we forget about grace, about how we are sinners who serve a great God with an overabundant amount of love. We forget about our relationship with a God who desires to walk alongside of us in the refining process, pouring out his mercy in every step.

So here’s to the process of learning how to receive gracious words from a really good Father and to repeating those words until we believe them. Here’s to the process of learning to be kind to ourselves as we are to others, to receive the hand of mercy helping us up. We must break the habit of self-condemnation or we will constantly find ourselves curled up on the floor. We will become less passionate, less effective, less focused. The world needs us to stay passionate and loving, to stay focused on relationships and work and conversations that matter.

So here’s to taking the merciful hand helping us up from our repressed state on the ground, lifting our heads high, and walking back into the room knowing we have a chance to try again.

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