Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Praying for a Jerk

If you’ve ever been in the sixth grade (and I’m assuming most of you have had that delightful experience) you will know that it is a time of drama and difficulty for the contenders of that epic occurrence. Physical, mental, and emotional upheavals are almost compulsory as those lovely tweens perilously reach for fleeting adulthood all the while frantically clawing to hang on to their slipping childhood. This ballet of life is completed with all the grace a penguin who has found himself straddling two icebergs that have decided to part ways. Disaster seems imminent.

Danger teacher in a bad mood sign
Being the nice parents we are, my hubby Buns and I chose this time to uproot our eldest son and transport him 1500 miles to the foreign culture of the South. Our family first moved to the great state of Texas the summer before Dubs was to enter the sixth grade and it was an experience for all of us.

Socially Dubbers did well with his peer group. He was large for his age and had some physical prowess and that was accepted among the football loving natives. His relations with adults and in particular certain authority figures was another story.

You could say rural West Texas is a little old fashioned in what they regard as acceptable behavior in children. Spare the rod and spoil the child is rule. Many parents speak about how all kids need is a good “beating” once in a while so they will behave. Adults call for absolute obedience and respect just by virtue of the fact that they survived into adulthood. Children are to obey and not question anything, and a yes Ma’am and no Sir are the only allowable replies.

This was a shock to all of us but especially difficult for Dubs. He was not one to talk back or cause upset just for the fun of it, but he was raised and is a person who naturally questions dubious reasoning. We encouraged him to think for himself and to speak up against injustice. This did not go over well with one of his teachers.

One day Dubs committed the cardinal sin of challenging a principle this teacher was relating to the class. Honestly, I don’t even remember what the topic was but I know that I agreed with him. He wasn’t disrespectful in the way he did this, but she was insulted and sent him off to the principal’s office for the perceived insubordination.

Buns and I were summoned and told that our child had refused to say yes ma’am to a teacher and had questioned her authority in class. He was to be punished; either “swats” or in-school suspension for a day. I was incensed at the ridiculous nature of the situation but explained our position that we don’t allow anyone to hit our kids, regardless of policy. Unfortunately, our unorthodox standing on the matter just added fuel to the flames.

For the months following the situation that teacher singled Dubs out every chance she got. She accused him of things he didn’t do, harassed him on the playground, and acted like (for lack of a better word) a jerk. When I would contact her about what was going on I was met with sneering insolence and the communication we directed to administration just seemed to make things worse. Buns and I had no idea what to do and the bullying was wearing on our sweet boy. He became angry and withdrawn and started missing school frequently. The whole thing seemed completely unfair.

One night I was preparing a Sunday School lesson and the material included the Sermon on the Mount. As I read the words of the Savior it seemed He was speaking directly to me. “But I say unto you, love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you.” I was angry at this woman and the situation, she was indeed my enemy. The words penetrated my soul.

With some resentment and hesitation I got down on my knees and prayed for her. Then I went in to talk to Dubs and read with him those same words. We decided that we had done what we could and now it was up to the Lord. We would pray for this teacher every day even though neither one of us really wanted to.

In the back of my mind I expected a miracle to take place. Surely all our good will and prayers for her would add up in our mercy account and that teacher would change. Instead, the year went on and the irritating behavior continued. Dubs learned to keep his head down around her and managed to stay out of her way.

Each morning before school he and I would ask the Lord to bless our enemy  but nothing seemed to happen. She didn’t change her attitude towards us one iota. After several weeks of this experiment we noticed something else instead. The anger we both felt began to dissipate. Our perspective changed and we realized that this trial was a growing time. He and I both found ourselves able to forgive her and our prayers together became more sincere. I stopped calling her names in my head and elsewhere. We both came to understand that much of the problem came from culture differences. We repented. We both felt the love of the Savior through the Spirit on the hard days and instead of the Lord changing our enemy He changed us.

C.S. Lewis said “I pray because I can't help myself. I pray because I'm helpless. I pray because the need flows out of me all the time- waking and sleeping. It doesn't change God- it changes me.”

It was precisely because Dubs was willing to follow the Savior in a difficult situation that hearts were changed and testimonies of forgiveness grew. As we prayed- God didn’t change, that teacher didn’t change, but we did and the result was a peace that surpassed all understanding. It was a lesson that neither of us will soon forget.

Thankfully, that teacher moved on to some other school district so she couldn't torture Dubbers for yet another year. I think it is one of the tender mercies of the Lord things worked out that way and hopefully one day she will learn what we did. That anger only hurts the one who holds it and peace is found through forgiveness.



How have following the commandments brought unexpected positive outcomes in your life?

Has the Lord used the bad behavior of another to bless your life?


  1. When I started reading this, I thought you were going to be writing about your own experiences with your 6th grade teacher, because I seem to recall her being on this same level to a certain degree. What is it about 6th grade, that it seems to be the hardest year of most people's lives? Mine was difficult, yours was worse, but I will always be grateful for all the challenges I had that year, because they led me to one of the most amazing friends I ever expect to have. I thank God for you every day. Love you so much!

  2. Adversity brings unity. I suspect dear girl that we have been friends for a much longer time period than this earth life. How grateful I am for you all these years. I would not be where I am or who I am without you. As for 6th grade I wonder if the teachers just get to a breaking point after dealing with that age group after a while. It takes a true professional with a heart of gold to be able to stay in middle-school education for more than even a short period of time but how important it is that the good ones do. It changes lives.


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