Recently I got in trouble. And it didn’t feel any better than it did when I was in grade school.
Often when you make a call for service help you are put into a queue with recorded muzac while you wait for a live voice. While the music track replays, a recorded message tells you that this call might be recorded for training purposes.
My own interactions weren’t being recorded for training purposes on a recent day when I was a little less mindful and a little less caring. Since I work with students my actions have high stakes. Unlike a grumpy clerk, I am not just negatively invading the reality of a driver waiting at the DMV office. My work behavior impacts students who have come to school to improve their skills, their confidence, and their lives. Many students look to teachers for more than a passing grade; they look up to teachers for hope.
Once when I was eight I was invited to stay overnight with my beloved, but slightly intimidating, Yugoslavian godmother. On this visit she tried to teach me to embroider. She had placed the edge of a pillowcase between two wood circles that clamped tightly together to stretch the white fabric. Then she showed how to separate the floss, pull it through the tiny eye of the needle, and begin to gently punch and pull the needle up and down on the stenciled bluebirds. At some point my floss would no longer pull easily, and before long there was a knotted clump on the back side of the pillowcase with more floss wrapped around the wooden frame where it didn’t belong. I looked over at my godmother who was distracted with my godfather. So, I took my sewing and went to the bathroom, locked the door and stayed there. First I tried harder to yank the embroidery thread through the fabric but when it was hopeless, I tried to break the floss with my teeth in order to start all over. Nothing worked. In the end, my godmother knocked on the bathroom door and discovered why I was hiding. What I remember most is how hot my cheeks were and the shame of letting her down, of not being better than I was, of not pleasing her with my clever skills.
If I were to talk to that little girl now, I would want her to know how embroidery is difficult and that everyone gets to be a beginner and make mistakes. I would want to comfort her and help her not to feel ashamed by letting her know that I knew just she felt because I had tried and been unsuccessful at projects, too.
Now all of these years later I still find it hard to comfort myself when I make mistakes, especially mistakes that hurt others, even when unintentional. The shame is still there. The desire to want to run away from the discomfort is still there. The self-doubt is still there.
Now it is Lent. A time for our own conversion. A time to share with Jesus troubles and suffering and pain. A time to share our crosses. A time to walk together.
After my trouble at school, let me be committed to my conversion of making one small step toward allowing Jesus to accompany me on my path. Let me allow His compassion to sooth me more than I knew how to do when I was eight holding my tangled embroidery in my godparents’ bathroom. Let this one baby step of conversion be to feel less shame and more of God’s love for me, knots and all.