One morning I broke from my usual breakfast-at-home routine to get a bacon biscuit at McDonalds. On the way to the restaurant, I randomly remembered the mom of a student I taught the previous year. She felt sorry for me because her son was just one of ten rowdy football players to whom I tried to teach senior English. Sharing my belief in Christ,she worried about her son's lack of humility and disrespect for others. I'd prayed often for her son, my other students, and my own burn-out. Despite my cynicism, Jesus presented Himself in unexpected, powerful ways throughout that school year. But, as hard as I prayed and as calm as I tried to learn to remain in the face of his deception and hostility, my relationship with Alan (not his real name) never improved. By May it seemed we were relieved not to have to look at each other anymore.
But still, a few times over the summer I found myself staring straight into his eyes. Towards the end of the school year another teacher had given me a picture of Alan and one of my other students (I'll call him Matt) to pass along to them. The picture was taken on opposite day. Students dressed as the opposite gender as a celebratory event for homecoming. Even though I groaned in remembrance of the distractions that day caused, the image of Alan dressed up like his grandmother and of muscular Matt clad in hot pink, prompted a smirk. They seemed almost vulnerable, all meanness and arrogance concealed under mascara and blush. slipped the photo into my bag, hoping I wouldn't forget it. But, I didn't remember it again until after
graduation. Though I doubt He's impressed by the cross dressing, God wouldn't let me trash the picture. I hid it in a prayer book that I rarely use. The two or three times over the summer that I came across that picture, God called me to my knees as I stared at Alan and Matt's faces. Frozen in the picture, they couldn't speak disrespectfully to me. And, I freely spoke as myself, a believer rather than a jaded public school teacher. To generate more love as I prayed, I imagined them both as babies, sons, or as potential brothers in heaven. And I wondered how many Christians might struggle to love and pray for me when God places a random memory of me in their minds. I want to believe that all of my Christian sisters and brothers like me and feel an easy affection for me, but, given my own immature temper and failures, I'm sure there are some who struggle to love me.
A few miles away from McDonald's, my remembrance of Alan's mom turned to prayers for her. Then I felt God urging me to pray for Alan. As I pulled behind the last car in the drive-thru, I rested my head against the seat and prayed motionlessly for God to grant Alan salvation. After my cursory request, I turned to glance out my side window and noticed a young man dressed in a McDonald's uniform. He leaned against a car and held a cell phone to his ear. He looked up at me just as I focused on his face. It was Alan. (If I'd known that he worked there, I would've skipped the McDonald's breakfast.)
We stared at each other, but neither of us smiled. I waited for my senses to wobble into neutrality before offering him a frail wave. His eyebrows sank low against his dark eyes and his nostrils flared. He nodded,almost imperceptibly, before turning away.
As I pulled around I heard God's soft command: Keep praying for him. For those few minutes it didn't matter to me that Alan was my "enemy," someone who'd never valued me, someone who may even hate me enough to spit in my food if he
was on the clock. In fact, as I considered--truly considered--his feelings, apathy, interest or disregard for a salvation-granting God, his view of me seemed blatantly trivial. His reality, his true vulnerability as an unbeliever raided my reservoir of compassion. My second prayer, as my car neared the menu board, wasn't the prayer one manufactures for an enemy, but an urgent, desperate cry for an equal--another human being whom was "knit together" by the Almighty's careful, expectant hands.
Read more articles by Ellen Dodson or search for articles on the same topic or others.
I like this openness in writing. As a high school English teacher myself, I was right there with you. Sometimes it is so difficult trying to show God's love to these kids. I especially like the phrase
"raided my reservoir of compassion" . That sums it all up in an English teacher's terminology. In plain language...we're spent, all used up.
The transparency of the piece was refreshing.