Smudges on the Glass

Why can’t they use the handle? At least push on the metal frame and not the glass! As I walked past a door on campus last week, the collection of smudges and handprints on the door glass reminded me that schools are full of …children! Sometimes children are messy!

Sometimes raising and educating children is a messy process! Sometimes we need to be reminded to focus on the child and not the mess.

Cleaner is not always better

Proverbs 4:14 offers the following observation, “Where there are not oxen, the manger is clean, but abundant crops come by the strength of the ox.” In that agricultural society, one had to understand that if you were going to have a profitable farm, you were dependent on the labor of the ox; and oxen mess up the barn! Those of us who have had the experience of “mucking the stalls” understand the nature of the mess created by farm animals!

As we consider our work as parents and teachers working with kids in light of the gospel, we remember the pattern of God’s plan for our salvation.  “But God shows His love for us in that, while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”(Romans 5:8). He did not wait until we cleaned up our “mess” of sin and selfishness before He initiated the plan for our redemption.

When will they ever learn?

Parenting and teaching involve a lot of instructing, reminding, and waiting for it all to “kick in” someday. Respect, responsibility, and resourcefulness are all learned behaviors that take time to develop. The process involves trial and error; falling and learning to get up again. Providing the appropriate levels of accountability required to instill these character traits is a daily ongoing investment of time and energy. Sometimes, it can make one weary!  We’re tempted to whine, “Why can’t they just…?”

In 2 Timothy 4:2, Paul links patience and teaching. He wants the young pastor, Timothy, to recognize that learning takes time and that requires patience on the part of the teacher. When our patience runs in short supply, it is helpful to take the long term view.

I recall walking by the door to my son’s room one night when he was in high school. I glanced at the clothes on the floor and the overall messiness of the room. A strong sense of irritation and exasperation came over me. As I slipped into bed I was overcome by another emotion. I thought, “One day that room is going to stay clean all day. He’ll be gone and you’ll wish you could see the mess again.” I began to cry and to repent of my attitude that had seen the mess but not the son. Oh, we still had to help him grow in taking responsibility for his room. However, I needed to shift my focus from my preference for a clean room to the priority of lovingly investing in my son’s maturity over the long haul.

This too shall pass!

A sign on my desk reads, “Adolescence is like a house on moving day – a temporary mess!” Perhaps it will help us during those particularly messy times in teaching and parenting, to remember that much of the mess is temporary. There are better days ahead as lessons are learned and maturity begins to take shape in young lives.

The goal is not a smudge-free campus, but a campus where children are afforded the opportunity to grow and learn even when it gets messy!