Beloved, let us be loving one another. Because the love is from God! And everyone loving has been born from God, and knows God. 1 John 4:7 DLNT
After writing a post for my blog on the importance of savoring the season of Christmas for worshipping our Savior, I realized the need to do the same in teaching.1 To savor my students and their stories and thus, to see them as an opportunity for worshipping my Savior.
As a science professor at a Christian university, it’s easy to savor teaching Scripture and science. I especially delight in that sweet symbiosis of Scripture and science wherein one makes the other even more beautiful. But stopping to see beauty in my students requires far more than a mind feast of examining processes, doing calculations, and collecting data. It requires the hard work of my heart in choosing love.
Savoring the beauty in my students demands that I do more than just listen to their questions and comments. It requires that I see their need for being loved as they are, wherever they are. For example, I recently had a student come to me to confess that she wasn’t a Christian. She’d been hiding that from me (and others) because she was afraid that I would think less of her for rejecting the faith I treasured. At that time, she didn’t need me to quote Scripture or diagram science for her. She needed me to affirm the beauty I saw in her. She needed to be loved as she was, not as I might want her to be. We all need love as we are, wherever we are today or have been in days past.
All my students need love—a kind of love that doesn’t come from me but comes through me from my Savior. They desperately need an agape love which is “the love of which only God and those indwelt by God are capable.”2 They need far more than what comes naturally or easily; they need a sacrificial love. This kind of love isn’t to be reserved for my spouse and sons. It should be showered upon students, colleagues, friends, and neighbors alike.
The only way I can love them like that is to constantly savor that my Savior has always loved me as I am. He loved me those years in college when I tried to run away from Him as hard and fast as I could; those years in graduate school and as a young professor when I valued arrogance far more than Him; and now, these years when I’m often too busy, distracted, or impatient to trust Him in the demands of the now. Scripture says it best in Romans 5:8 GNT But God has shown how much He loves us – it was while we were still sinners that Christ died for us!
The beauty present in each student is both innate and instructive. It is innate in that each person is created and crafted by God with purpose (see Psalm 139:13-16 and Jeremiah 29:11). It is instructive in that each encounter with a person is an opportunity for giving and receiving grace from God (see Hebrews 4:16). Granted, it’s easy to savor beauty in students eager and grateful for learning. Yet, the prayed-for and sought-after beauty in prickly students is distinctive and valuable like a bloom picked from a thorny rosebush. I’m learning that prickly students are often those most in need of love. The absence of agape is usually the reason why they’re prickly. Their fears of being considered less than haven’t ever been counteracted in anything other than words.
As Christians, we are commanded to love in word and deed (see 1 John 3:18). As professors, loving in deed often means: stopping to listen to a student’s story while handing out tissues for her tears; seeing that she needs a phone call rather than an email; recognizing that a student’s harsh words aren’t about me but about his fears and not responding likewise when grading his papers; realizing that his falling asleep in class is a need and not shaming him for it; and other actions done with the gift of grace liberally applied as a salve for healing and growth.
Choosing to see a student through the lens of love, and thus, to savor that student, is a form of daily worship of my Savior—a stopping in my day to acknowledge His crafting of the beauty present in this student, and a sacrament in my routine to recognize His gifting of grace to me for this student. For when I stop, see, and savor this student, I recognize that I am a recipient of a great and mighty love. And this choice reorients me to the truth that I’m not the one loving the student; it’s Jesus alive in me loving this student and me so much that I can’t help but give His love to her.
I truly hope and pray my student knew and felt love when she came to me in confession earlier this semester. This is the desire of my heart for all of my students every semester. To know they are loved as they are, wherever they are. Because if they can receive love from me, they can better know they are loved deeply, truly, fully by our Good God. For only love lasts and brings true learning in what is eternally valuable—the need to savor this season, this student, and most importantly, this Savior, our Christ Jesus.