She came into my room when the lunch bell rang, looking up at me with hopeless, confused eyes before she broke down crying, repeating,
“I’m stupid. This is stupid. Why am I crying? I don’t cry.”
I gave her a hug, sat her down in one of my desks, and asked her what was going on. Her significant other broke up with her last period over a text, she said, and now she didn’t know why she was crying.
As I probed to get some details, I learned she just started dating this person a month ago and all seemed fine last night. And then this. But more than being upset about the broken relationship, she seemed more upset over letting herself feel. She was angry at herself for crying, for breaking down and for letting hurt crack through her hardness to places she tries to hide by distracting herself with relationships and grades and accomplishments- places that confront her worth.
I had two other students come to me that Friday, crying and frustrated because they couldn’t meet their own high standards or the standards they felt the world calling them to meet. They were frustrated because they felt their worth dwindling after not being able to check every box on their expectation list. I hugged them and reminded them that their worth is not in what they do or who they’re attached to or what they can or cannot accomplish.
It’s incredibly humbling to give this advice when it’s the very thing I’ve been struggling with the past several months.
I thought second year teaching would be easier- that was my expectation. But as my expectations have been shattered in the hardest ways, I’ve found myself stuck in the whirlwind of a longer commute and practices and games and makeup games and three preps and creating a new curriculum and grading and planning a wedding and learning about marriage and trying to invest and invest and invest to learn that I can’t.
I can’t. I cannot invest in everything, I cannot take on everything. Not on my own. And as the weeks have flown by and I’ve accomplished a majority of the things on my checklist, I still feel behind. I still analyze and overanalyze every conversation that could have been more others-focused, I want to fix every problem people have had with me, I want to be more productive with my minutes and I simply want to feel like I’m doing a good job in my classroom and conversations and relationships and alone time.
And when I take a step back, I find myself taking good things, holy things even, like the desires to invest and be compassionate and love others and slow down, and twisting them into my control, deceiving myself that I’m the one in charge of making all of these desires gone wrong, go right.
When I find some quiet, when I finally surrender to not being in control and when I sink into my bed early on a Friday night with a candle crackling next to me and a week of mistakes and ramblings and papers piled up, I’m reminded to seek first my God.
Because when all I keep doing is seeking my own desires to change and to fix and to control, the Lord says to stop and to seek Him instead.
In Him I will find my rest and my worth. I will find grace and love and meaning and space. I will find the strength to stop kicking myself for every mistake I make and every unchecked obligation on my list and instead, I’ll be restored in the Lord’s grace and hope and deep, unchanging, unending love. In this place, I’ll find the strength to slow down and to rest and to consider others before myself, the very things I’ve been trying to do on my own because I know they are the best ways.
When those girls walked into my room that Friday weeks ago, I saw myself in their mess because I’m there too. I wanted to talk about why they were struggling so deeply with their emotions and their unmet expectations and their mistakes. I knew where they were at and since I couldn’t specifically tell them about Jesus and grace and rest because public school, I want to take the time here to remind you dear reader, about the Lord and seeking him first, because I bet you’ve stood in those girls’ places too.
So friends, we can desire good things. We can want to be productive and loving and compassionate and whole, but we can’t do these things on our own because we will twist them into stress and dissatisfaction and frustration. The Lord calls us to seek Him first, that in Him we will find our worth, we will find our desires fully met because he is enough and in him, we are enough too. The reminder you and I need is to seek Christ, even before our desires, because in him, we’ll find the very things we’re trying to do on our own.