Look me in the eyes!

[notice]Musings around children’s ministry. Reflections on week 3 of 10 weeks teaching stint.[/notice]

This week I’ve had to battle the temptation to mindlessly fall into the rhythm of school life and just survive. The work is overwhelming and the ground we lost due to last week’s strike has set us significantly behind. There is a lot to be covered and we need all the time we can get. In the face of the task before me, I have been tempted to put my head down, grit my teeth and get through the weeks. My heart was softened by the Grade 7s (yet again) and I have been encouraged to persevere to make a lasting impact in these children’s lives while I am with them. I’ve been told that such thinking is naive and the talk of young, inexperienced teachers who haven’t spent much time in the trenches. I humbly beg to differ!

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But first, an update from where I last left things with the Grade 7 girl whom I mentioned last week. She is working well and is a pleasant girl to have in class. She mainly puts her head down and gets to work. I can’t say I am getting any negative vibes from her…I am grateful for that.

“Please look at me when I am talking to you?” —– “‘I can’t ma’am’ she said.”

On to the rest of the Grade 7…I had another serious talk with a few of them about my standards for how to conduct oneself in class. One girl in particular felt offended and protested quite strongly to being confronted about their attitudes. I asked her to remain behind after the class and spoke to her one on one. She had her back turned towards me as I was talking to her.

“Please look at me when I am talking to you?”

“I can’t ma’am” she said.

So I said my piece and let her go. She came back the next day completely unchanged by our talk. I was not surprised; I obviously had not reached her with my message. How could I? She hadn’t looked at me, she hadn’t let me in.

Then the next day, I asked a boy in my class to pay attention when I was talking. I asked him to look at me so I could see he was listening. He looked in my general direction but not at me. So I spoke to him after the class and asked him to look at me when I was talking to him.

“I can’t ma’am” he said.

“Why?” I asked

“I don’t know ma’am I can’t look at people in the eye”

I was baffled. I still am. Why won’t they look at people they are engaging with? Shame? Rebellion? An attempt to avoid being affected? I don’t know the answer but it took my mind off getting through the curriculum for long enough to ask questions. These two children reminded me of a scripture in the book of Matthew. The Bible says the eyes are the lamp of the whole body and that if the eyes are good, one’s whole body will be full of light. (Matthew 6:22-23) When the eyes are filled with darkness the body is filled with darkness and how great that darkness! Our humanity is shared through our eyes, when we look upon others and allow ourselves to be seen. This passage comes out of the sermon on the Mount where Jesus teaches on storing up treasures for ourselves in heaven. Jesus said that where our heart is, our treasure is too.

When we cut ourselves off from each other it’s akin to being in darkness. It’s keeping our hearts hidden from each other and hiding what the Lord has given us to share, away from people-storing it away for ourselves. It is a selfish action that ultimately puts more emphasis on the ways of this world than what the Lord says. Jesus urged us to store up treasures in heaven where moth and rust do not destroy. In this instance Jesus was talking about serving either God or money but the principal still applies to our relationships with people. It applies to the children in our midst who won’t share their lives with anyone.

 I am constantly encouraging them to break the culture of laughing at people who get things wrong or ask questions in class. There seems to be an understanding that the group’s approval is ultimately more important than learning. The enemy has been unoriginal with his lies, and the harmful message some of our children are getting is that, the rules of this world are the most important. It’s a reversal of God’s order and it ends in destruction.

So what is the solution? Well for me it is to bear the label of being naive and silly for persisting in getting through to these children. I’ll keep asking children to look me in the eye and pray that when they finally raise their eyes to meet mine they’ll see His light shining and never be the same again. I am encouraged by the efforts of ministries like Teachers in Christ and Engage believing that as we continue to be faithful with these little ones and shine His light into the darkness-we will see change!

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