I now know why teachers get a summer vacation: post traumatic stress disorder.
The flashbacks are giving me panic attacks, my shoulders have taken up permanent residence just below my earlobes, and on more than one occasion I found my whole class staring at me strangely because I'd been talking to myself in foreign accents while grading papers during a quiz. It's a bad sign when you hear some address you as Mrs. Stallings and you immediately tighten your grip on the stapler, thinking, "If one more person hands me make up work, I just might throw this stapler at them." But then someone hands you a tea cup they made for you in pottery class for you and suddenly you can make it through one more review session where everyone pretends you never taught them anything. When you get hired as a teacher, you should get a hard hat, combat boots, and a good therapist as a sign on bonus.
Earlier this year as I sat down with the headmaster in our annual meeting, I recalled a parent meeting ten years ago when I sat in awe of a veteran teacher who managed to perfectly balance holding a student accountable while maintaining a positive, encouraging professionalism. I thought I'd never be that good, and if I ever got there then my teaching life would be easy. Earlier this year as I sat in a parent conference and heard myself talk I realized I had become that teacher, but that my job, rather than being easier, has become harder.
Turns out the better you get at something, the more difficult it becomes. My pastor said something similar about faith in his sermon the other day. Faith, holiness, sanctification - it all gets harder rather than easier. The same could be said of grief.
It's been a dark, dark winter. Aside from being colder than Alaska here at times winter, the intensity of working full time and single parenting nearly drove me over the edge of crazy. But more than the outward intensity, the inward struggle for sanctification has left me tattered, body and soul. I have been warring greatly with what John Owen would call the "habitual disinclination towards obedience and communion with God." The power of sin has manifested itself not so much in great eruptions of sin, but by the persistence of a thousand relentless temptations incessantly gnawing away at my will to obey.
It is a great mystery of grace that I can feel so beaten down by the sinful nature and yet so clearly further along than I was even just a few years ago. One of the greatest tragedies of the sinful nature is how it draws us away from the mystery of grace, transforming mystery into nothing more than a supermarket transaction for our forgiveness. I come and exchange empty words for a candy bar with a golden ticket. But grace truly understood is the mystery of communion that requires a simultaneous emptying of all my self-endeavors to change and a diligent, constant pressing forward into the only one who can remove this fiery poison in my heart.
As I press forward into grace though, the attack of sin redoubles its efforts to distract me, and I find myself overwhelmed. Overwhelmed, but not disheartened. If anything I find myself more inclined to laugh and dance and throw myself on Christ. I am oh so good at failing, and even better at excusing my failures with pathetic complaints about the difficulty of obedience. Because sin must be killed daily. The same sins have to be put to death over and over and over. And nothing is more exhausting than saying no to the familiar comforting, sinful thought patterns that distract me from grief and pain and suffering.
But there is something even more deeply beautiful about running this race, about pressing on with the expectation of grace fulfilled, about waiting for new life in the midst of darkness and death. I just can't quite put it into words yet but I can almost touch it. almost.