By Sophie Crespy
Originally published in. Be Still Magazine, issue 9.
As the bell rang, my students left the room, loudly exchanging laughter and silly jokes, hardly glancing at me before going through the door. When the classroom was finally empty, I exhaled and sunk into my chair. Tears filled my eyes. This lesson felt like a disaster. The whole term felt like a disaster.
It was December 2016. I had arrived in that school in September to teach. Prior to that, I had taught 10 years in another junior high school where I had flourished as a teacher of French literature and language. My students loved me and appreciated my lessons. They were kind and calm in class.
But my whole life was on a spin since I started in this new school. This one was closer to our house, it was more convenient for my family life, and it had seemed like a smart move at the time when the opportunity had presented itself.
But on that December day, at the end of that lesson, it didn’t seem so smart after all! I felt depleted, exhausted, disappointed at myself and can I admit, slightly mad at God! Why on earth would He have made it possible for me to come to this school and experience such hardship?
My nights were short, my days exhausting, and my faith weaker than ever. I suddenly felt incompetent as a teacher. My students were not taking their work seriously. Most had little respect for me and the work I did for them. They were so badly behaved that my usual method of handling bad behavior had stopped working. The experience I had accumulated over the past 15 years of teaching in junior high proved useless. My nights were sleepless and God seemed absent.
I used to enjoy teaching. I had always thought of myself as a skilled teacher; I took pride in knowing that my students appreciated my work as well as their parents who often brought me gifts at the close of the school year. I was proud of myself for that. Teaching came easily to me. I loved preparing lessons. I loved the interaction with teenagers, even the most quirky ones.
However, this job didn’t make sense anymore. I felt like a failure. I worked harder at preparing lessons, trying to make them more interesting, only to find that the students were not more engaged in the activities. I tried new strategies to deal with the disobedient ones. Nothing worked. Suddenly, and for the first time in my career, I was facing a wall. I was desperate.
Then one day, as my most difficult class was working on an assignment, silence filled the room. It was a rare occasion. Usually when pupils work on a test, I stand on the alert, walking around the classroom, checking that no one cheats, or that no one needs help. On that day, somehow I felt compelled to pray for them. As these teenagers were working, I started praying over the whole classroom. Then I prayed over each of them, one by one, praying their names and asking God to bless them with a desire to be kind, to achieve well at school, and somehow for them to know the love of Jesus. Immediately, a sudden wave of peace and purpose filled the classroom—and my heart.
I wish I could tell you that after that my lessons all went well and suddenly I felt connected to my pupils who were miraculously filled with the Holy Spirit. But it didn’t happen. My days were still chaotic and hard. Yet this was a turning point. Something had shifted in me. I realized that if I continued working for the same reasons, that is to be proud of myself, to feel successful in my career, to be liked by students and parents, I would end up in a deep depression.
The words of Paul I had read in Colossians started to make sense:
“Work willingly at whatever you do, as though you were working for the Lord rather than for people.” Colossians 3:23
Working for people isn’t necessarily disappointing but it can be. A boss, a colleague, a student (or a whole class for that matter!) can turn into an enemy without real reasons. I may feel that all the good work I am doing is producing little fruit.
But, if I claim to be a Christian, if I focus on the kingdom of God here on earth, then I must look at inconveniences from a different perspective.
My belief sheds a new light on the reason why I do my work and on how I do my work.
I am reminded that our God took on flesh and came among us. I cannot forget that while He was with us, Jesus spent most of His time serving others. Therefore, my desire is to serve Him through my own work.
I want to work for Jesus. I want to work with Jesus.
It starts by following His example and serving others. If I do that, if I decide to serve Him by serving students, colleagues, bosses, then everything changes. I serve them, I love them as much as I can, all the while doing my work as best as I can. While I do this, I keep my eyes on Him.
My work honors Him and serves Him.
I still do the same work with the same people, but my motives aren’t the same. My work is not aimed at honoring myself anymore. It is meant to bring Him glory and to express my gratitude for His unfailing love.
I may still experience failure—a bad lesson, a disagreement with a co-worker, a difficult student, a demanding boss. My daily life may still seem like a marathon, but I am not depleted.
I take comfort in doing my work well, for the sake of the kingdom.
Understanding Colossians 3:23 and living it out changed my outlook on my work. I decided that I could do good for these students who are obviously in need of care, love, and a good education. I could try to be Jesus’ arms and mouth here in my classroom, in this school, in the teachers’ room. I could try and work for peace and with great love right where I was because of this:
“God blesses those who work for peace, for they will be called the children of God.” Matthew 5:9
This idea felt refreshing. My nights became less chaotic and my days less heavy. I felt a surge of strength and hope. It wasn’t coming from me. It was God’s strength working through me.
Things got better from that point onward.
Right now, I am still teaching in this school. I am facing similar challenges. But I am engaging in my work in a different way. I am now regularly praying for my students. Even on the hard days, when a student is so disrespectful I almost lose my temper. Even on the days where it seems I have achieved nothing good. I am learning to keep my eyes on the Lord, on His message.
I “run my race.” And I feel encouraged by the hope that the gospel provides. I feed on Paul’s words that I have come to learn by heart:
“So let’s not get tired of doingwhat is good. At just the right time we will reap a harvest of blessing if we don’t give up.” Galatians 6:9
It is my gift to God, the way I use the gifts He has given me. Even if I am no martyr, still I hope that my life and the life of my students will testify that I, “hold firmly to the word of life; then, on the day of Christ’s return, I will be proud that I did not run the racein vain and that my work was not useless (Philippians 2:16).
So wherever you are, whatever your job is right now, either in the trenches of a hospital, in a classroom, on a farm or a law firm, at your kitchen sink, in your office, I hope you know that your work can serve the kingdom of God. You can love your co-workers, your employees, your patients, or your students. You can be the good, you can be the change. You can be a bold light in your workplace. You can be Jesus’ hands and mouth here on earth, daily.
God can redeem your work and turn it into work for His kingdom. So don’t get tired of doing good and keep your eyes on Him, always.