Sitting In Someone Else’s Chair

I remember the day I got the key to my first classroom. I was shocked someone trusted me enough with a key to something I saw as so valuable. That key represented I was part of something bigger than myself. It was acceptance. To some people that key was a paycheck, a duty, or stacks of papers to grade. All I could see was the difference I wanted to make.

Today, in sharp contrast, I waited for an assistant principal to unlock the door of the classroom where I was to spend the day in someone else’s chair. I thought about the lack of a key, and how locked out I feel right now. The difference I wanted to make does not go away with the absence of a key. Without a chair of my own it would be easy to feel not quite a teacher, and not just a babysitter either.

What makes you a teacher? What makes anyone what they are? Is it the key that fits in the lock where they work each day? Is it the chair they sit in? What about the papers on their desk? All of those things I no longer can call mine, but I still feel like a teacher. I still hold teacher credentials. Are those the key? But I’m reminded of the months I was still in school to get my teaching license, and I was an intern at a local elementary school. Even then I felt like a teacher. So, a teaching license doesn’t make a teacher a teacher either.

I think what makes you a teacher can’t be tangible. I think of Jesus sitting on mountains, roaming around with followers. He had little with Him. He needed no Promethean Board, paper clips, or red pens. He didn’t need a textbook or a list of important words hanging on a wall. He had followers, or students, because of the example He gave. He taught with kindness, loaves and fishes, and a fisherman’s net. He taught with stories, ones that made you think. He never held a teaching license, never had a key to a building, never graded a stack of papers, and never had a chair to call his own. His teaching was nomadic, but clearly effective. I have to wonder if He knew the difference He was making. I’ve always heard that if a student didn’t know how much you care, he won’t care what you know. I’d say Jesus probably understood this better than most.

So I guess I am left having to take a note from what Jesus never said, but instead did. I’ll travel from classroom to classroom sharing a chair with some great teachers. My message is different, and not as important, but it is what I am supposed to do. I’ll do it with a willing heart knowing I don’t have to have a key on a key ring, a red Swingline stapler with my name emblazed across the top, a bookshelf full of curriculum, or a chair to call my own. After all, the greatest gift a teacher can give his or her students is to never stop learning. So far, I’ve learned a lot about teaching from students, content that I normally don’t come into contact with, and about myself.

Who needs a chair? Real teachers never sit down anyway.

Breaking Free of Silence

Silence can be an enjoyable thing or it can be a marinade of lonely mixed with apathy.  The first kind is found with old friends, a good book, or a hot bath.  The second kind was where I lived.

This Silence wasn’t characterized just by a lack of words.  It was a tangible entity enveloping all those that lived inside the house.  It settled first into the rooms, making them seem hollow,  then settled into the bones of the people that called that place home. Once it was there, even as an uninvited guest, it simply wasn’t willing to vacate, and Silence has a way of taking over.

Since the Silence isn’t just heard, it’s felt, those that dwell there try to fill it with other hollow things.  The one that created it will try the hardest to fill it up with electronic noise, which only serves to exacerbate it instead of filling it. The others try to fill it with comforting things like playing music, baking, talking to friends on the phone, or making plans with family.  All of those create temporary respite for those enveloped in the Silence.

Breaking free of the growing Silence, and it does grow, is complicated.  To get out you have to find the opposite of the Silence and try to replace it with those things.  Since the opposite of this kind of Silence is communication and relationship, this is a daunting task.  After all, Silence gave them a beating for months, possibly years, before they left for good.  Luring them back takes time and a lot of effort, and you have to pass the gatekeeper before they can get in.  The gatekeeper is the one that made Communication and Relationship leave in the first place.  If they can’t get past the gatekeeper, then there is only one other thing you can do.

Leaving Silence isn’t like leaving a person.  If you lived with it for years, then it has a habit of hanging around until you’ve made it clear it isn’t welcome anymore.  Silence is an optimist.  It will think that shadows of what you were in your former life will slowly become who are you in your new life, but this does not have to be true.  Now you are the gatekeeper, and you have the power to fill your new home with communication and relationship and finally be happy.  And when you are alone, and you have silence, it feels just like being with old friends, reading a good book, or taking a hot bath.

Knock, Knock. Change the Lock.

Have you ever fumbled with your keys trying to get them into a lock and you couldn’t remember what the key even looked like?  You just had to try them all and hope for the best.  Once, I couldn’t get into my car.  I hit the button on my keyring on my automatic opener, but nothing.  I tried it a few more times because I thought there was no way the battery could be dead.  Still it did nothing.  Finally, I tried the key, and it didn’t even work.  There was a pretty big reason for this.  The car wasn’t mine.  It was identical to mine, but it belonged to my friend that had one the same make and model, and I was trying to let myself into hers.  Of course the key didn’t work, the lock wasn’t mine.

I spent years knocking on the door of a heart who never answered, and I ended up making my home on the welcome mat.  I was just optimistic enough to think that one day I’d finally pick the lock, hit the right combination, or be handed the key outright and I would finally see what made this person tick.  Some days I thought I was almost inside.  I had moments where I felt like I saw beyond the facade and beyond the day to day into something more real.  Conversations that were surface level ruled most days.  We discussed what we ate for lunch, what movie was being released on Netflix, who in the family was having issues, and then we’d hit this wall.  We couldn’t break through it, and I may never know why.

Trusting people is hard work.  Letting them see the you that most people don’t get to see isn’t easy because in order for this to happen you have to be vulnerable.  No one likes being vulnerable.  It carries risk, and the risk is rejection with a side of humiliation and a touch of unbearable pain.  So when someone lets you in, you should proceed with caution as though you are somewhere special.  Someone letting you in can happen in a matter of hours if you find someone that is a rare soul mate.  It can happen in days, months, or even years.  But there is a sad truth that some may never find out.  You can spend years with someone and never be handed the keys to their heart.  Their fences and walls may be up for even those most close to them, and maybe they just aren’t willing to risk it.

We lock our hearts up tight to protect us. We let some in and others seem to have their own roadmap once they get inside our hearts. But what I discovered is  there’s always the chance that someone is going to change the locks on you.  What happens then?  I had to change my perspective on this quite a bit.  What if there is a big reason you can’t get in? What if this lock wasn’t your lock to begin with?  What if the only way into the hearts with the highest walls  made of the toughest brick and stucco was from the inside out?  What if all those dead bolts they put up to keep people out of their innermost thoughts and feelings have to be unlocked willingly?  You have to deal with a reality that will make you pretty uncomfortable.  You were never meant to get in.  They didn’t choose to let you in, and they have their own reasons for that.  That lock isn’t yours to open.  Yes, it’s a hurtful thought, but either it’s yours and it won’t open from the outside, or it’s just not yours in the first place.

You can’t make someone let you in.  But when they do, make it count.  No one can live on a welcome mat forever.