by Sister Orianne Dyck, novice
At some point, there comes a time in our lives when we come face-to-face with the limits of our own love. When we realise just how difficult it can be to love a child unconditionally. When we realize we don’t even know how to love in this moment, or what loving in such a moment would even look like.
I came face-to-face with the limit of my own love in one particularly rough class. It was the most difficult group I’d ever taught. Kids were getting hurt, emotionally and physically. I was doing everything I knew to do, and seeking help constantly from every available channel, but it never seemed to be enough. Every day I greeted each student with a smile, reminding myself these kids needed love, even as I was cursed at, ignored, and defied. Every day, I tried to find a point of connection with the kids, reminding myself they needed love, even as they provoked one another to aggression, tested racist language, and picked on the misfits. Every day, I tried to find the balance between encouragement and tough love, even when I was exhausted from doing researching, planning, meeting with administration and parents, and writing reports. But it seemed like every extension of love I offered was thrown back into my face with a malice I never knew kids to be capable of. And at some point, I just wanted to stop caring. I just wanted to stop loving. It was too hard to care for people who didn’t give two hoots about anyone else. It was too hard to love people who disdained me. Why even bother? I could do my job without caring after all, couldn’t I?
But then I looked at the cross. And I remembered.
Jesus is the model for us of how to love our children when things get really, really difficult. God was faithful to his covenant with his people, while they continually turned from him, ignored him, denied him, betrayed him, mocked him, and abandoned him. Yet God didn’t give up on them. He loved them so much that he sent his Son to them. And we know how Jesus was received and treated. Yet at the time when it was darkest and most difficult, when he had been literally beaten and cursed and mocked and betrayed and abandoned, that was when Jesus performed the greatest act of love the world has ever seen. And he did it for the same people who had completely rejected him.
Next Friday is Good Friday. The day Christ died for us, who deny him again and again, who forget him again and again. Yet he never denies or forgets us. He never will. The path to such unconditional love is one that involves suffering. We can’t escape that. But if we feel like it’s pointless suffering, we only need to keep vigil with him for 3 days… 3 days and we realise what that patient, long-suffering love can do, when united to his.
In the end, I clung to the love of Christ on the cross. Every day before I stepped into that class, I would stop in the hallway, take a deep breath, and ask Jesus to love these kids in me. Because my love, on its own, wasn’t enough… only his love would be enough to help them.
Things never became wonderful in that classroom, but it did improve. Some absorbed important lessons when I thought they weren’t listening. Some began helping out in the classroom. Some became more respectful. Some asked questions about Jesus.
When I bid that class goodbye on their last day of school, I didn’t expect them to recognize how much I cared about them, or how I was praying for them to find good friends and supportive teachers as they started new schools the next year. But as a group of my beloved troublemakers walked off together, one student turned back, left his cohort, and came and found me in the crowded hallway. He smiled at me, something he had barely done all year. “Thanks, Miss,” he said. “Goodbye!” And he ran back to re-join his friends.
In that moment, I realised that somewhere along the line, despite all appearances, that student recognized that I cared. And in that moment, I saw that it was the love of my crucified Christ that he had seen, because without that love my ability to care would have collapsed into ash long before I had made any steps towards establishing trust with this student, or the class.
I was moved to tears.
If you are facing a time like this in your life, let me assure you of one thing… our love will never run dry when we allow Jesus Christ, crucified and risen, to love in us. It is this love that will carry us through. It is this love that will inspire transformation in our children. And it is this love that will make us who we were meant to be.
So do what I did. Ask the Lord each day – each hour, if you have to – to love your kids in you. Carry a tangible reminder of the grace he really is giving to you! Get a crucifix: for the wall, for your pocket, or for a necklace. Have it blessed, and refer back to it constantly. That is the One alive in you. Don’t be afraid to let him love in you. His love changes everything.
Jesus Master, Way, Truth and Life,
form yourself in me,
that I may see with your eyes,
smile with your smile,
and love with your heart.
Mary, our Mother, Teacher, and Queen,
pray for us.