During the week ahead at school, my students are going to get ready to show their work to their parents or caregivers. The theme is “Then and Now”, where they’ll look at their work from the beginning of the year and compare it to now. They don’t know it yet, but they’re going to see a change. Spelling is improving, reading levels are higher, sentences are getting longer, math challenges are being overcome. They’re almost imperceptible changes, but when you look at them over time, they add up. The kids are not the same as they were in September. These changes were evident to me this weekend as I sifted through photos to show at the conference.
I’ve had a bit of “then and now” reflection going on this week too. My ears perked up at our Wednesday night study on Romans. With thoughts of our upcoming parent/student conference on my mind, I heard the presenter say that one of the key concepts to understanding Romans was the thought, “Once you were this, but now you are this.” “Hey! That’s ‘Then and Now’ thinking going on!” I thought. Romans is one of the more complex books in the Bible, and it helps to grab on to the “big ideas” of the book as we study.
Briefly, the idea in Romans is that we have an old self and a new self. The old self is what all of us, including me, live under much of the time. Dominated by selfishness, anger, laziness (often in subtle ways), or the many forms addictions take, we get caught in a snare of an old way of thinking and being. When we realize the trouble and unhappiness we’ve gotten ourselves into, the new self is freed from this snare as we give it all up to a Higher Power. For me, this higher power is God, and mysteriously, God is able to do what I can not do, and that is free me and begin to grow a new understanding in me.
There’s always this dual story happening – struggles with the old, but a constant realization that the new Story is there too, weaving it’s healing way through my days, leading me from slavery to freedom.
“Then and now” came up for me this week as I went to a 2 ½ day teaching conference. Another teacher was planning to go but was ill, so it was unexpected for me. Suddenly, I was making plans for the substitute and also juggling my plans as I realized I had to give up a precious Saturday morning.
Whenever we go to a conference, teachers grow in empathy for their students as they realize how hard it is to sit still for any stretch of time! I’ve also been around the teaching block enough times by now to wonder about any new ideas in teaching. As I sat in the large, windowless ballroom of the Fairmont Hotel, I wondered – Is this another flash in the pan idea? Or is this a new paradigm that will change things? I have to admit that I had one foot in both worlds as I listened. I know that change does not come easily to any of us. For these ideas to really work, a lot of hard work and planning needs to happen. My dad used to have a book on his shelf when I was a kid. For some reason it caught my eye and always made me wonder about its contents. It Didn’t Just Happen. This book title came to mind as I realized, this won’t just happen unless we all really come together.
As my 4 colleagues and I sat through the many sessions (most of which were actually quite good), my mind went back to the lesson from Wednesday night about the old and the new self. Which self am I here? I wondered. The old self would be cynical, inflexible and curmudgeonly, like the old muppets who heckled from the sidelines. A cranky critic, listing all the reasons that the new just won’t work. It sure is easy enough to do. Teaching is such a complex job. At any given moment, we juggle the hats of social worker, parent, cop, doctor, lawyer, counselor… not to mention teacher. Just don’t give me another system to try to implement and feel bad about.
This person was certainly within me, but I realized that such thoughts didn’t fall under the new self. The new self within me is more hopeful than that, and is open to treating others the way I’ve been treated – with unconditional love and a determination to bring learning “no matter what”. By Friday, I noticed the resistance within start to melt away as a new vision caught fire.
My prayer is to always move forward in hope. Not an unrealistic hope, but a hope that is grounded in the “Now” of my life, the new self that God keeps reminding me of, despite the old curmudgeon in me. Thank God for this constant reminder.
Romans 8:9,11 – “But if God himself has taken up residence in your life, you can hardly be thinking more of yourself than of him. …When God lives and breathes in you (and he does, as surely as he did in Jesus), you are delivered from that dead life.”