Today marked the end of a nineteen year ministry. The LAST day of school. My children’s Christian school closed its doors today due to the decreasing enrollment the school has experienced over the last three years. The poor economy has impacted many people in a variety of ways, times are tough. I just never thought that it would happen to our school. We were doing God’s work right? Many of us had become as close as family. It was such a blessing to see our children say the Pledge of Allegiance, pray at the beginning of each day, and learn about God through their everyday academic lessons.
When we got the news that this might happen, some of us jumped into action for the love of our school. We handed out brochures, got ads on the radio, asked parents to ‘talk up’ the school in their circles, we organized fundraisers. In then end though, it wasn’t enough. We simply had to secure a certain number of enrollments for the following year to operate in the black, and we weren’t even close.
Unfortunately, it was worse than we originally thought. Several families were behind in their tuition payments. We were still carrying debt from previous years of families who were unable to pay the school what they owed. Staff tried to help by voluntarily taking pay cuts, and some didn’t take a check for several months.
We prayed and prayed. We expected a miracle. The deadline for the decision was extended another week. Our nerves were fried. What would the teachers do? Where would the students go?
The church took an offering and the small congregation gave generously. We hoped it would be enough. Enrollment was still too low.
The email came on a Friday afternoon. ‘We regret that we have had to come to the decision to discontinue this ministry which has served you and our community for nineteen years plus.’ I knew it was coming, but it felt like a shot in the heart when I read it.
I recognized quickly that I was launching into the stages of grief. Denial is the first stage and I was there. How could they actually decide to close the school? I couldn’t imagine that the school would be closed at the beginning of the next school year.
Denial faded quickly as anger filled my heart. I was angry at God, the school, the parents and myself. We should have been able to save the school. If only I had done more.
I posted my feelings on Facebook and read the teacher’s and student’s heart wrenching comments about the pain they felt. The comments from some of our friends astonished me. “Just apply at the preschool down the road.” “Don’t worry, God has a different plan for you.” That one really irritated me! Of course we all knew that God has a better plan, but we were deeply mourning the loss of something important, we didn’t want to hear what felt like insensitive comments designed to make the problem ‘go away'.
The Bible says we are to, “Be happy with those who are happy, and weep with those who weep.” (Rom. 12:15 NLT). We were hurting, we needed someone to listen, some genuine empathy. I appreciated my few friends who were willing to experience my pain and ‘weep with me’.
As I move through the bargaining and depression stages on my way to acceptance, I realize that those who couldn’t comfort me didn’t mean to hurt me, they don’t like pain anymore that I do. They wanted to fix it for me. I can understand that, because I know I have done that too.
Ultimately, they are right. God does have a greater plan for all of us. We may not see it now, but some day it will all make sense and we will accept that this was God’s plan all along. The pain is deep, but Paul reminds us in Romans, “We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation.” (Rom. 5:3-4, NLT).
My pain will not go away quickly, but I can take a hold of God’s promise “For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.” (Jer. 29:11, NLT).
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