This week, a very clear story of the effectiveness of prayer happened. The theme in my prayer guide was prayer and I definitely needed the reminders. It was the first week back after a break, and I found I was a bit cranky and resentful of giving up those lazy, free days. Of course, this led to some cloudy emotions which brought me back to my morning prayers. As the song says, I was “sending out an SOS”. I usually spend some time praying for others, but the airwaves were almost all personal requests. “God, give me stamina. Forgive my reluctance. Give me strength for the day. Help me be patient with the kids and to share Your hope with them, not my resentment.” These prayers are always murmured in the quiet morning darkness. My brain felt all rumpled up and I didn’t know what else to do but pray.
I found that every day after these prayers, I was surprised by the strength that came up. No day was perfect, but the blessings became obvious. It wasn’t until Thursday, however, that the clear story happened.
The day before, I had done a lesson with the students on adjectives. They had a list of adjectives before them, and were to pick the ones that described themselves. Then came part 2. We passed our papers around and wrote adjectives describing each other. These adjectives will be used next week in an art lesson.
I kicked myself later for not warning them that negative adjectives were not allowed. It didn’t even dawn on me, and of course it happened. Amid the many, many positive words were the few hurtful ones. Gay. You stink. Ugly. Weird. Stupid.
I should have predicted it, and my heart sank. My immediate response was to get everyone to sit down. I explained what happened, talked about mistakes, and said that honesty was important, as was fixing our mistakes. I encouraged whoever had written the words to stay behind. The students went out for recess and two students did stay behind and erase the offensive words.
But there were still 3 papers left with offensive words. I decided to leave it for the day and I had a heavy heart as the students left for home. How would I handle this in the morning? The only option I could think felt so archaic, to take recess away for everyone unless the guilty parties owned up to it. But it didn’t feel right.
“No way!” said Lyle at supper when I explained my dilemma. “I hated that unfair discipline when I was in grade 6 and 7.” So I felt stuck. I didn’t want to punish everyone, but it didn’t seem fair to those with the offensive words on their papers to suffer injustice.
A story book that I recently read to my students had some good advice which came back to me. “Don’t try and solve your problems now. The morning is wiser than the evening.” And so I went to bed, resolved to pray about it in the morning.
Coincidentally, the passage and reading for the day spoke to my situation exactly. Well, almost exactly. It said that we could take our dilemmas to God with confidence. We might not get the answers we want, but when we align our wills to God’s will, we can trust God with the results of our prayers. “Draw near to God and he will draw near to you.” (James 4:8)
And so I prayed for God’s wisdom to know how to respond to my students. I waited in prayer but didn’t seem to hear anything.
Getting ready for work, I flipped the radio on and heard the story of someone in Winnipeg this week who had received homophobic slurs painted on his house. Manitoba has some new anti-bullying legislation called Bill 18, and it has provoked a lot of conversation in recent weeks about gay rights. Unfortunately, someone received the dark side of this conversation and had his house spray painted. What was so encouraging was how the community rallied around him. People came out and painted over the slurs.
And that’s how God answered my prayer! With a lightened heart, I began the day with my students by talking about what happened again. I thanked those who had fixed their mistake and said how sadly, there were still 4 papers with bad words. Inspired directly by the repainted house, I asked who would like to stay in for recess to recopy these 4 papers, minus the bad words. Everyone’s hands shot up in the air and voila, we had a win/win situation.
It seemed that I wasn’t the only one with a light heart all day. Everyone was in good spirits. I thought of the movie, “Do the Right Thing”, and how just one good decision can change everything. In the words of yet another movie (The Kite Runner), we all had the chance to be good again. That’s what grace is all about.
Some who are cynical of prayer might say that solution would have come to me anyways, but I don’t agree. One of the mercies of prayer is that it keeps the eyes of the heart open. Just how will God answer? I have seen too many answers to think prayer has no effect. I see how prayer changes hearts and lives – dark, despairing thoughts are replaced with hope and fears and resentments are replaced by energy and love. In the words of the old hymn, “I was blind but now I see.” True, it is a daily occurrence for blindness to return, but I have always seen blindness be trumped by vision regained.
There are some adjectives that describe me which are true only some of the time – patient, empathic, creative, kind – but the adjective that describes me all of the time? Blessed.