I’d had her as my student for nearly 100 days. Sullen, sad, just existing, her countenance carried burden and a troubled spirit. When mom came to parent-teacher conferences and asked with weary, troubled eyes, “Has she asked you to call her by a different name yet? All her other teachers tell me she is asking to be called _______.”
“No, she hasn’t mentioned a word to me about it.”
Mom poured her heart out about the messy circumstance this young person had endured. I will never, ever forget that conference as my heart has ached for this student since then. I hadn’t seen a smile consume her face all school year. The semester crawled on, and absences became the norm. It was obvious this young person was struggling with gender-identity issues, but out of seven teachers, I was the only one she had not approached about being called a different name.
Without even being aware, this young person was teaching me much more important lessons than I was teaching her.
My awakening happened while teaching English to high schoolers, and on this particular day, I recognized my need to unlearn much of what I thought was right.
I’m literally the most awkward and blunt individual I know, and when or if I encounter a person who is more awkward than I am, I’m intrigued, almost fascinated. As black and white about morals stances as they come, I’ve always prided myself on boldness, drawing hard lines, and demanding excellence. I love people who are not afraid to call a spade a spade, and you can know me for only a hot minute and conclude I’m not a coddler.
I was raised to be a loud voice, a strong voice, and certainly, there are appropriate times for that, but so many times the strongest leaders are quiet, gentle, and soft. Jesus embodied the perfect balance of gentleness and strength—there is a reason why He is called the Lion AND the Lamb.
I’m approaching 40, and I have grown up in church my entire life. My husband and I have been doing ministry for a decade, so presumably, I have heard Jesus’ parables dozens of times, yet l was rocked with the revelation that Jesus would likely speak the words in Mathew 23:13 to me, “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the door of the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces.”
Ouch! But, oh, so deserved . . . that is until my heart was softened and my eyes opened.
Finally, in mid-January, this student politely asked if she could talk to me after class. I knew what was coming. Quietly and respectfully, I heard, “Mrs. Mobley, I just wanted to let you know I no longer go by (girl name), but please call me (boy name).” I was impressed with the direct, confident demeanor and eye contact.
Instead of spewing my stance, “Ummm, there are two genders. God made man and woman in His image,” I surprised myself. As opposed to spouting bold convictions, I questioned, “May I ask why I’m the last teacher you have talked to about this?
Direct eye contact ceased and eyes darted to shoes, “Ummm, I thought you’d be upset.”
My heart softened, realizing she was afraid of my judgment.
The world is scared to death of harsh judgment from the church, and often for good reason. I simply murmured, “All that matters at this moment is are you comfortable in my class? Can you learn?”
The next moments will be etched in my mind forever. She literally jumped off the ground and threw both arms around my neck. A smile and joy overtook her face, and I think I may have even witnessed glassy eyes. “Thank you so much, Mrs. Mobley!! You have no idea how much this means!”
In that moment, convictions do not need to be spouted—love and compassion need to pour forth like cool water. She KNEW my conviction without me speaking it, but she didn’t know how deeply I cared about her. She needed to see and hear the truth, “You are cared for. You are loved.”
We will never make an impact in this world for Jesus if we meet the world’s expectation of judgment and harsh words.
The world should crave the presence of Jesus followers, not fear them. Our words and responses should be a cup of cold water to hurt, lonely, and dejected people.
My student taught me much more than any academic lesson I poured into her. Because of this interaction, I truly understand the depth of Jesus’ parable in Mark chapter three about the healing of the shriveled hand on the Sabbath. Of course, it is important to honor the Sabbath, for it’s one of the Ten Commandments. But, more important than rigidly upholding the Sabbath was the condition of the heart.
We MUST love God’s people more than our opinions and our convictions.
Jesus teaches in Matthew 22: 39 that the second most important command is to “Love your neighbor as yourself.” We need to “put down our signs, cross over the lines, and love like He did” as Casting Crowns, sings in “Jesus Friend of Sinners.” May our responses always reflect Christ instead of causing recoil. Go into this dark world and spread love loudly instead of spewing conviction vehemently.
Previously published on the author’s blog