I love September!
As a student and then an educator, this month has always meant new beginnings loaded with possibilities. Every August, my mother bought me new shoes and a new start-of-school outfit. I proudly carried a new box of crayons and a handful of brand-new pencils and erasers in my pencil box. The school floors were waxed, and the new classrooms hinted at exciting new adventures. The empty chalkboards were clean slates, a chance for a do-over, a fresh start.
But I realized this is an idealized picture of back-to-school days. Countless children (and teachers!) come to school lugging crippling emotional, physical, and social baggage, burdened with messages that convince them they are “less than” others. Many of us endured those dreaded middle school years. Still, judging by what I hear from my grandchildren, I am convinced that tiny shoulders are burdened with heavy emotional baggage much earlier in life now, thanks to social media.
Children can be cruel – but so can adults. We all are judged – on our looks, our hair, our clothes, our cellphones, our homes, our family’s successes or failures, and even our housekeeping. Christ warned us, “Judge not lest ye be judged” (Matthew 7:1). Judgements too quickly move from observations to taunts and worse.
The overworn phrase “Sticks and stones may break your bones, but words never hurt you” is a lie! Demeaning words leave deep and lasting scars that may never heal. So, let’s begin this school year by remembering the importance of kindness and the dire consequences of critical comments and actions.
Recently, I visited a classroom of young children, one of whom required a “rolling seat” to help calm her. When I stared curiously at this new classroom device, another student explained, “It helps her be kind when it’s not always easy for her. Especially when she pushes you.” Wow! Out of the mouth of babes! How often do we adults criticize or belittle someone who doesn’t conform to our definition of “normal” or who doesn’t believe what we believe? This child understood what many adults have forgotten.
As a follower of Christ, we are commanded to “love one another just as Christ loved us” (John 13:34) at every age and stage of our lives. As students, parents, teachers, and neighbors, we need to recall the blessings Christ has showered on us and the pain unkind words or judgments have inflicted on us. For this brand-new school year, I resolve to pass on His love and kindness, even during situations I don’t fully understand or on days when I don’t feel particularly charitable. Will you join me in that?
We may never realize the impact of a kind word, a smile, or an invitation to ‘come sit by me.’ But they can move mountains or save lives.
The prophet Micah (6:8) asks, “What does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”
The Apostle Paul, writing in Ephesians (4:29), warns, “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs.” In Colossians (3:12), he wrote, “As God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience.”
A back-to-school outfit has an entirely different meaning now.