Three opportunities for empathy and humility

1 Comment

Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience…..Colossians 3:12 ESV

Being an effective teacher requires exercising compassionate patience with one’s students. It’s easy to forget what it is like to be unskilled at something, to be a beginner.  What comes easily or naturally to us may not feel that way to our learners.

When I started teaching French to kids, I caught myself far too often using an irritated or impatient tone of voice. I’m afraid that my body language communicated: ‘I’ve already explained that numerous times.  You must not be paying attention!’

God did not leave me too long in that ‘superior-to-inferior’ posture, but creatively started teaching me empathy.

It happened like this.  One year, Mike asked me what I wanted for my birthday.  Wes and I had been batting a tennis ball over a neighborhood net during the spring.  So, I mentioned to Mike: “I’d love some tennis lessons for my birthday!” 

I anticipated that with three lessons, I would have developed basic tennis skills. Instead, these classes simply humbled me.

The tennis pro at our neighborhood club could not have been more gentle, thorough and patient. The problem was me. I could understand his instructions.  His words made sense in the abstract.  But my brain could NOT make sense of his verbal directions in a way to make my body move to match what he was describing.  I felt completely stupid, mentally deficient.

How hard can beginning tennis be?’ I thought. ‘And what is wrong with me, that I can’t connect body movements to his words?’

All of a sudden, I made the connection to my classroom.  ‘So, THIS is how some of my French students must feel.  It’s clear to me, but not to them. They feel stupid.

That aha moment changed my teaching approach and I rapidly grew more compassionate.  But I still fell into being impatient with their slow progress. ‘If only they would pay more attention!’

Humility lesson # 2 arrived in June 2018. For the first time since studying Russian back in the ‘70s, I started learning a new language. What was different this time was that I was still teaching French to middle-schoolers.  All of a sudden, I FELT how slowly I needed a Spanish speaker to go.  I FELT how much repetition I needed before something in Spanish wired itself into my brain.  Nor could not control the process.  My brain directed my acquisition.  All I could do was try to understand the sense of spoken and written Spanish.

When school picked up again in August, I greeted my students with far more patience. I also eliminated some of my methods.  Now, I knew first hand that correcting their written or spoken French was no help. Someone has to be ready to receive any correction.  I waited until someone asked a question about a word or way to say something. I also started sharing with them my daily experiences learning Spanish.  They seemed to warm to my being a student just like them.

I applauded their progress more often with real warmth. I stopped forcing anyone to say something in French until they wanted to.  Madame Cochrane was much more human and humbler as a language learner herself. With Spanish, I felt the same frustration they did when they would mix up two French words that sounded similar.  This was a regular occurrence for me.

Often I lamented the previous 26 years of teaching French without myself learning a different language.  What a waste!

God be praised that today as I teach ESL to local Hispanics and French to two of my grandkids, I am a humbler and more empathetic teacher.

Since January 1, 2022, the Lord has now added an extra course in humility. Inspired by my daughter-in-law Anne who teaches 4–6-year-old children how to draw, I have set for myself the goal of drawing in a way that someone can identify the object! For years, teaching French and using a white board I just excused my poor stick figure illustrations, resorting to ‘Je ne suis pas artiste!’

But this past November, hearing how Anne teaches little ones to draw and seeing our youngest granddaughter’s work, I decided that maybe I could learn to draw.  So, I resolved to spend 15-20 minutes several times a week practicing. I figured that I would have to be at least better at the end of 2022 than when I started.

This new motor skill is once again feeding my empathy and patience muscles. I have not been quick to pick up this new way of moving my hand and seeing. Although we are more than half way through February, I am committed to sticking with my goal.

I know that for Anne, drawing comes easily.  She also is a natural encourager. When I’ve sent her a photo of something I’ve attempted and feel almost embarrassed, she applauds my efforts. Baby steps ARE progress.

Maybe our Father wants us to appreciate the many different gifts distributed among us.  Until I ventured out into something new, I took credit for my skills and thought that there was something wrong with others who weren’t like me. Until I tried those tennis lessons, something totally foreign to me, I had no sense of how difficult something might seem to someone not endowed with the same ability.

Do we expect everyone to think like us, to view situations the same way as we do or even do things in like manner?  Apparently so, for how often do we find other people frustrating!

In his wise providence, as John Piper has written, our God ’plans to permit’ all these circumstances with frustrating people. Why?  I think it’s to shape us into the men and women who not only bear with each other with loving patience, but also can praise Him for his perfect design and creativity shown in the variety of people.

Goals – do I set any? or what!

2 Comments

Part of my family is entrepreneurial.  My son and his wife run on-line businesses.

Recently during Thanksgiving Shay, my daughter-in-law mentioned that as soon as they returned to Tampa she would be heading off for her annual 24-hour-away solo planning meeting to evaluate the year, set business goals, and create strategies for working toward those sales and growth targets.

No matter which industry you’re in (I taught secondary school French for years), planning is essential.  You can’t just wing a project and expect the same kind of outcome that is attainable through measured steps.

Since October, I’ve been searching for a Biblical goal, a Jesus-centered capital-G goal for my life (or this next year), one that transcends the narrower aspirations such as building more muscle mass, acquiring proficiency in Spanish, spending less time on my phone/with my laptop, eliminating rushing.

What drives my desire for ONE Holy-Spirit-powered goal?  Chronic anxiety, occasional feelings of being unsettled or splintered, and a struggle to hand over fears.

I’ve been trying on different goals for size.  Such as:

  • The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself as love (Gal 5:6b)
  • Breath mantras about God like: “His good, my peace”
  • Creating a habit of noticing beautiful aspects of life and creation and thanking God at the moment.

Monday of this week, I finally confessed to Mike all my anxieties ‘du jour’ and asked him to pray for me.  It was cyber Monday, and with Christmas approaching I was feeling VERY scattered, like Martha running around the house, as she attempted to multi-task her way through the day.

Then Tuesday morning, during my quiet time the Holy Spirit dropped THIS thought into my heart:

  • Since I am going to be spending the majority of my life (read: forever!) in heaven with the Triune God of the universe….
  • Since I am IN FACT an adopted daughter of the Father as well as Jesus’ little sister……

…should I not be PRACTICING MY ROLE, MY LINES for living eternally right now?  After all, in one sense, I already AM ‘above. It’s not like I need to pretend some thing that isn’t true. For we read in Paul’s letter to the church at Colossae:

Colossians 3:1 Therefore, since you have been raised with Christ, strive for the things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God.

Jesus’ little sister!  This thought captivated me. Yes, I AM His sister.  Then came the empowering breath of the Spirit:  “Well, Maria, if you ARE Jesus’ little sister, how about starting to ACT like who you already are!”

There it was – my goal. So simple. It claimed me.  Immediately and at various times yesterday AND today, I have been reminding myself:  ‘You’re Jesus’ little sister.  So, act like it Maria!’ That prompt is all I have needed to send the anxieties running.

How have I translated my eternal identity into concrete living?  For one, I immediately have taken a deep breath and relaxed.  Jesus never rushed. I certainly won’t be rushing in heaven. Might as well start practicing moving at HIS pace now, on earth.

The corollary to NOT rushing is taking time to be with the people I encounter during the day.  Yesterday that looked like: noticing and engaging gently with an impatient man in the grocery check-out line ahead of me at Kroger.  Today, it was sitting in my car for 30 minutes chatting with a friend after we picked out granite for our new house.

All I seem to need to pull back from stress is to say out loud to myself,  “I’m Jesus’ little sister.” And Holy Spirit calm settles on me.  Then I look up to see whom I might encounter.

The cool thing is that yesterday at lunch time Mike texted me writing that he had just prayed again for me to feel less scattered.  I rejoiced to share with him how the Lord had used his prayer for me.  Then I reminded him that he also is Jesus’ younger brother.

%d bloggers like this: