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I remember once purchasing a poster for my classroom that displayed these five words in large letters: "YOU ARE RESPONSIBLE FOR YOU." The only other graphic on the poster was a picture of Garfield pointing his finger at you. I posted it as a banner above the board in the front of the room.
I suppose I was drawn to this message because it felt like something I wanted to say every time someone complained about what another student was doing (or not doing). Johnny isn't sitting in his seat... Sally keeps looking at me... Theodore won't give me back my pencil.
Sigh. I realize there are times when students need an adult to intervene, to make something right that isn't right. But so often it feels like if students would stop focusing on what is wrong around them and simply do what they know they are supposed to do, the problems in the classroom would significantly decrease and an overall spirit of peace and calm would likely reign.
It does seem like this concept is a tricky one for youngsters to fully grasp. In reality, there are some areas in which a child is not actually capable of being fully responsible for himself/herself. For example, a 3-year-old may be responsible for putting on his shoes, but he is likely going to need someone else to tie them. Or maybe make sure he knows which one goes on which foot.
(Now I realize a child needing help with his shoes is different from that same child feeling the need to report indignantly that his sister left her shoes under the couch instead of on the shelf where they belonged. Hence the poster with that ever-important reminder: YOU ARE RESPONSIBLE FOR YOU. But the point remains, children struggle to fully be responsible for themselves, whatever the reason.)
As adults, I'm not sure we face quite the same dilemma we did as children. For one thing, most of us don't have classroom teachers to report to if our peers aren't behaving well. Even if we did, I think most of us would try not to be THAT student who keeps track of what everyone else is doing.
In one way then, most of us as adults have learned that we are responsible for ourselves. Maybe at times we still feel frustrated by the behavior of the people around us, and it can certainly still get complicated, but generally speaking we know - at least in theory - that we can't actually control other people. We can only control ourselves.
For me, though, the one part of being responsible for myself that I'm not sure I've mastered yet is the whole concept of self care. I find it fascinating how part of the way God takes care of us and strengthens us is by giving us the ability to actually strengthen ourselves somehow. In Hebrews 12:12, the call is to "strengthen your feeble arms and weak knees."
Don't get me wrong - we need help. But part of the help we need has been designed into us. God has given us the ability to strengthen ourselves to some extent. Still, I guess it's a balance - ultimately all of the strengthening comes from Him. But it's probably good to remember that with God living within us, there is quite a lot we can do. With God, in fact, all things are possible!
So how do we become people who take care of ourselves responsibly? People who know our limits, our strengths, what makes us feel alive, what drains us. People who model a life worth living. Furthermore, how do we teach this kind of self care to our students and children?
I'm still figuring this out myself, but lately I've been inspired by the idea that becoming the person you want to become has a lot to do with things like slowing down, simplifying, Sabbath-ing, and solitude. (For an incredible book on this topic, I highly recommend The Relentless Elimination of Hurry by John Mark Comer.) It turns out, Jesus Himself lived out a pretty great example of self care on earth. And following His way of doing life is a perfect place to start when it comes to taking care of ourselves.
Maybe those things we often call "spiritual disciplines" are not just habits to make us better Christians or keep us from falling away. Maybe they are gifts from God, part of His plan to help make us strong and enable us to take care of ourselves. Maybe if God were to put up a poster, instead of saying, "you are responsible for you", His poster would say:
Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly. (Matthew 11:28-30 The Message)
Pray with me...
... God, help us learn to take care of ourselves by watching and following the ways of Jesus
Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. John 14:6
... Lord, open our eyes to see what our next steps are in practicing the spiritual disciplines
The Sovereign Lord is my strength; He makes my feet like the feet of a deer, He enables me to tread on the heights. Habakkuk 3:19
... Father, strengthen our teachers and parents to model and teach our students how to live responsibly
Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you. Philippians 4:9
Cross-stitch by me, circa 1996 (additional marker embellishment most likely by one of my children) :)
~ Carrie Warner, ACSD Prayer Team Coordinator
Soli Deo Gloria To God alone be the glory