By David Schmus
I still remember the day my thinking changed about my marriage. My wife and I had been married about 10 years but were reeling from the divorces, after 30 and 40 years, of both of our parents. Suddenly, the security we believed we had felt like shifting sand.
That day I picked up a book given to us by someone very wise, and read the tagline: “What if God designed marriage to make us holy more than to make us happy?”* This book, Sacred Marriage, gave me a vision for marriage in which God’s purpose for the gift of my wife was not to meet my every need, but to train me to meet many of hers. Rather than looking to my wife as the source of my happiness, I could find my joy in the Lord and allow that joy to be a blessing to her. Sacred Marriage is a call to radical trust in the Lord—to see every trial, every argument, every disappointment in marriage as an opportunity for Him to train me to respond in love.
This may not sound all rainbows and unicorns, but when a husband and wife actually live this out—isn’t that the marriage we all want? This kind of selfless marriage fosters our own flourishing, and becomes a safe harbor not only for each other, but for our children as well. Along the way we get a lot of fun and happiness as a fringe benefit, even though it wasn’t the main goal. Don’t you find God typically works like that?
As a fifteen-year public school educator, I learned that God does this in teaching as well. I taught AP US History and Civics/Government to high school juniors and seniors, and I loved it! But one year my department chair informed me that, despite being the most senior teacher in our department, I would be teaching two sections of English for those students who had not yet passed our state’s high school exit exam.
Anger, entitlement, and fear immediately rose up. “But I’m not credentialed for English…I teach Social Science! Can’t someone else do it? Why me?”
But fortunately, another voice—more quiet and gentle than my emotions—was also speaking. “I am in this. I work all things to good for those who love me. Trust me.”
It was a process (though not long…I had only a day or two to respond!). I surrendered to the Lord and faced this new challenge with as good an attitude as I could muster. Many of my students were recent immigrants, and wanted to learn but faced language challenges. Others had given up on themselves, or had been given up on by others. I still remember the shock when one of my students told me, “You’re the only teacher that makes me work.”
Because this was a second “elective” English class for these students, there was no curriculum. Though a social science teacher, I was somehow supposed to improvise. By the end of the first semester I had run out of worksheets, supplemental materials, Schoolhouse Rock videos, and any other hacks I could borrow or steal. I was losing momentum and connection with the students.
As I began to pray more urgently, the Lord inspired me with an idea. It was new to me, but an old idea for many educators. I felt he wanted me to teach them English skills through a novel—and not just any novel, but a story about a young boy growing up in Boston during the American Revolution. No educational expert would have recommended using this novel for this class. The reading level wasn’t right; it sometimes used archaic language, etc. I had to spend my own money to purchase a class set, so I couldn’t assign any homework out of the book.
Despite these challenges, this book activated my passions, and I became a much better teacher for those students. They not only learned more English, but also a value for our nation and its founding principles. By the end of that school year, 45 of my original 49 students had passed the exit exam!
The following year, I was sitting in the back of my classroom using a rubric to grade student presentations. It was a beautiful day so I had my classroom doors propped open. Suddenly I found myself quite unexpectedly enveloped in a tight hug around my neck! One of my English students, a big smile on her face and joy in her heart, came back to express her appreciation. Despite my initial reluctance to teach this class, many of my fondest memories of teaching are with those immigrant English students who needed someone who wouldn’t give up on them.
That was my introduction to Sacred Teaching—avoiding the temptation to entitled complaint and to focus on our own happiness, comfort, or preferences, instead of trusting God to make all things work together for good as we let Him lead us.
As educators in this entitlement culture and often highly politicized environment, it is so easy to get caught up in the focus on contract issues like salaries or health benefits. It’s easy to dwell on the problems created by a poor administrator or difficult student. The world’s response is to demand what’s coming to us—our rights!
I’m not suggesting that issues like teacher pay aren’t important, and would never encourage an educator to simply endure an abusive situation. There are times to speak up, and we at CEAI often help our members do just that.
But if we want to experience sacred teaching and see the Fruit of the Spirit manifest in our classroom, our focus must be on Him, not on our own happiness or comfort. Jesus said in John 5:19 that He “can only do what He sees the Father doing.” He instructs us in Matthew 6:33 to “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things (i.e. food, clothing, the things we need and often chase after) will be added unto you.”
The next day, the next week, or the next school year will almost certainly bring an unexpected and threatening development out of your control. Sometimes these changes are evil or harmful and need to be opposed. But often they are God’s invitation to sacred teaching—to seek first His kingdom, and to play your part in what the Father is doing at your school and in your life. Surrender control and trust Him to lead you. He is a good Father, who is working out all things for good for those who love Him and are called according to his purpose (Rom. 8:28). Let Him transform you into a sacred teacher.
P.S. I recently was able to preview the next Kendrick Brothers (“Courageous,” “War Room,” “Facing the Giants”) movie called “Overcomer.” It will not be in theaters until August, but I can tell you that it’s set in the context of a high school, and several of the main characters are educators. This excellent movie powerfully illustrates this concept of sacred teaching, and I am excited for you to watch it so we can discuss it together!
*Thomas, Gary. Sacred Marriage, Zondervan, 2000.
I would love to engage with you in the comments below. Do you have a story of sacred teaching?