It’s not about you.
It is not about you. Or, rather, I should say: it's not about me.
It's incredible how, from the moment we enter the world, we instinctively expect adults to be here for us, which is a crazy thing. When you consider how self-interested humans are, it is amazing that our first encounter is (usually, and should be for all humans) with two parents who have brought you into the world not just to have a little walking amalgamation of mother and father to parade around at pre-school luncheons, but because you are a good in and of yourself. And all of sudden, the force of a child alters the course and meaning of two peoples' lives. Their roles in life are irreversibly altered; the course of their life has new meaning.
And not only for just her immediate parents, the presence of a child brings out the altruism in humans all around her. People on the street instinctively know that it is their role to protect and shield whatever child crosses their path. We see the helpless of our race, and we know that it is our duty, as the healthy, hearty adults to care for them.
As I have worked with the high school students over the year, I have pondered this relationship of adult-to-child and teacher-to-student quite a bit. Having myself been on the scarring end of a relationship that moved beyond the mentor-mentee realm into something more selfish and dangerous, I was, particularly at the beginning of the school year, nervous about maintaining appropriate boundaries with the students. I was vigilant for any sign of over emotional attachment or investment to any student, or any nick in any sort of professional veneer. Naturally, this was an unsustainable way of ministry, as I did not even begin to share a little bit of myself with my students at all.
Which makes, at least at the high school level and above, for ineffective and dull teaching, at the very least. For teaching means to share yourself with your students, to be genuinely who you are. Teachers can really only achieve their mission by sharing themselves: sharing their perspective on the world; their particular manner of teaching; their unique stories they have to share. Otherwise, we would just read the books and have done with it.
But their is something invaluable about learning from another human, and this is why we keep teachers around. We learn from watching them, from absorbing their passions, by becoming enchanted with their idiosyncrasies. We learn from them that their are multiple ways of seeing the world, and many different stories to weave from it, and ours is but one. In order to teach, in order to mentor young minds and souls deeper into the truth of the world, to help draw them more deeply into fullness of life; it is necessary that we be fully alive, fully present, and fully ourselves.
Furthermore, a large portion of the task of teaching/ministry to high school students in general is affirming them: saying: I believe in you. I believe in that deep, truest part of you: the part of you that is kinder than your stressed-out snapping at me, the part of you that is more mature than you making fun of your classmate; the part of you that seeks truth, and has the power to change your communities: I believe in that part of you. I believe in that part of you that shares a thought in class, that stops to have a conversation afterwards, that asks a good question, that tells a good story, that sings so beautifully, that lights up onstage, that is full of warmth and goodness.
But in order to affirm the deep beauty of each person, we must at first acquaint ourselves with it.
And, in both these tasks: in seeking to reveal our true identities, and in seeking to form relationships, it is vital to remember: this is not about you. It would be a shame if, after two years of working in a high school, I walked away having impacted no one, except with an Instagram full of moments, and a cornucopia of fuzzy moments to remember on rainy days.
This is when we remember: this is not about me.
I have come to offer myself: my talents, my laughter, my love.
And it is not for my sake, but for the sake of those I have come to serve.
That, even in our laughter, our enjoyment of the students' company, it is all for them.
The action of a teacher is nothing of taking and all of giving.
Even in receiving a gift from the student: a small kindness, a heartfelt note of gratitude, that receiving is always a gift.
A gift that is offering my love for another, putting myself at the service of another.
I am still learning this mystery of learning to love deeply while loving freely; learning to give of oneself for the sake of another, not oneself.
Real service is not photographable. It takes place in the heart and the mind. It is in learning to humble ourselves to be totally, completely at the service of others; to love them for their sake, to love them without interest for ourselves.