“A bruised reed he will not break, and a smouldering wick he will not snuff out.” Isaiah 42:3a
“It would be better for him to be thrown into the sea with a millstone tied around his neck than for him to cause one of these little ones to sin…so watch yourselves.” Luke 17:2, 3a
“Simply let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No.’” Matthew 5:37a
When I was home raising four children, there were days when I thought I would go out of my mind. One of the favourite stories that my children remember is the day when they were fighting and calling
each other names. I lost it and actually said, “Stop calling each other names, you idiots!” They stopped immediately, turned, and burst into laughter as I went red.
One of the fine lines in our work with students (and our children) is the ability of those of us in authority to cross over to indoctrination, the “Do as I say, not as I do” school of hard knocks. True education is a risky business. We educate our students so that they learn to ask “Why?” and “Show me,” and as educators (or parents), we have to have pretty good reasons as to why we say the things we say, do the things we do, and believe the things we believe.
I had a colleague once tell me that he almost lost his faith because his parents would not allow him to question anything. He felt that they controlled his actions, his choices, and his path. I asked him how he managed to hold onto himself. He told me that he would always think, ”Well, at least they can’t control my mind or what I am thinking!”
We want so desperately for our students and our children to “have faith,” but the ironic thing is that we cannot force this on them. It reminds me of the movie Bruce Almighty. The character played by Jim Carrey wants his girlfriend to love him even when he cheats on her, but “God” (in the form of Morgan Freeman) tells him that making someone love him is not in the Almighty’s power. Now I am a good enough Calvinist to know that there is a balance of freewill and God’s irresistible grace or sovereignty, and I am also a good enough Christian to know that I will never understand that teaching which seems paradoxical.
What I do know as an educator and as a parent is that love and faith are not “things” to be packaged and handed over. They are taught by the way one lives, by the way one models. This task does not come without responsibilities and discipline. I remember a high school classmate who stated quite emphatically that he was not a Christian (this was in a Christian high school) and that he didn’t believe all this stuff. BUT, he was still expected to be respectful during devotions and singing, he was expected to go to chapels, and he was expected to understand the facets of faith and Christian perspective and be able to articulate them. In fact, later in grade 12, I marvelled that he actually chose to take the newly developed Biblical Perspectives course. I remember thinking, that boy is searching.
We talk of being communities of grace, communities of safety, and I believe that means that we also have to be places where the smouldering wicks of faith are not snuffed out. As educators and leaders, we need our “yes” to be “yes” and our “no, no” but those words must come out of compassion for our students. We must live our lives integrally. We cannot, on the one hand, demand that our students “have faith” if we use means to control them that are violent or a type of indoctrination. We cannot tell them not to call each other names and then turn around and do it ourselves. Christian schools need to be the “safe” places where the tough questions can be asked and no one is rejected because they don’t fit the “Christian” mould.
And I know from experience that if we manage to find that balance, we might be surprised at how often students (and our children) forgive us for our mistakes, our shortcomings, and our foibles.