I spend a lot of time thinking about Jesus’ love. I think about how much he loves my students, and how I need to love them like he does. I think about how often I fail to love them like he does, about how when I fail he remains faithful, faithful, faithful to them. But with all that thought, I forget that he loves me too. Jesus’ love is for me.
He does not care about my filthy-rags good works and good words. He loves the heart of the matter, the heart of me. He died for that heart. He died so that he could hold that heart in his hands and whisper inexorable love through the rot to its core.
Or sometimes he speaks louder than a whisper. In an entry from more than two years ago, during my senior year of college I wrote, “When I am silent, He shouts and it hurts. Those pipes and those bright figures in glass will not remain always still. The ‘great sloth heart’ is moving.” Last week was that kind of week, and oh, I thank God for it.
I MCed thesis presentations two nights last week. I was so nervous about it that I actually lost my appetite for about two days, but then one by one I stood face to face with eight students before they stepped on stage. They fiddled nervously with their printed speeches, and without asking I could tell that their mouths were dry and their palms were sweaty. I got to look them in the eye and tell them that in forty minutes, they would have done the impossible. And then I got to step up on stage with them, and, sometimes haltingly, pray before those assembled. And forty minutes later when we applauded, their shoulders would drop, they would take their first deep breath in two hours, and you could see in their eyes that the color had come back into the world, but brighter than ever before, because each had just slain a giant. I stood tall and proud and forgetful of my fear.
Also, on Thursday, two of my classes of juniors turned in an assignment to me in which they had to compare themselves to one of the foreign missionaries we studied. I asked them to answer honestly about their interests, their personalities, their characters, even their spiritual resources. I have only begun to grade them, but this is perhaps my favorite assignment I have ever given. I do not know if it has academic value, in fact, I doubt that it does, but almost every single child has sat quietly with his or her soul for at least a moment (a feat for some of them) and then, in some small way, laid it out on the page before me. I am moved by the shy willingness of many of them to look themselves in the eye.
Really, I think most teenagers want two things. They want to be seen. Even the quiet ones want to be seen, even the ones who push you away want to be seen and want to be known. They want to be seen and they want to be loved. To be loved is to be taken in and named and accepted. For some of them almost everything they do and say is based on these two deeply felt desires. I try my best to follow through when I see it in their eyes. And I often, often fail.
As we get older (and, of course, I am my only firsthand experience of getting older) we gain confidence and weight and complexity of thought, and those intense desires for recognition and love get pushed down and fed less. For most of us, this makes us easier to live with, both for ourselves and for others. But I also think it’s a shame. Because desires, like Wisdom on the street corner, call out loudly for fulfillment. And the fulfillment at the end of the road, the voice that always and forever seeks to answer those calls, is Jesus.
Because Jesus sees and knows, oh he knows all about it. And more than that, despite that, through that, because of that, he loves. He is Love, bleeding and victorious. Those things my students want? They can have them. They were made for those things, and so were you and I. Christ makes us clean and he takes us home. Rejoice.
So good to read this when my assigned reading for class last night was Dante’s Inferno. Your last paragraph was too sweet- “those things the students want? They can have them. They were made for these things, and so were you and I. Christ makes us clean and he takes us home. Rejoice!” Oh, to read those words- how encouraging!