Today, I administered the final exam to two of my classes (with Ian and Eve’s help!). Two classes are officially completed. Wow, how time has flown and God has provided! During the proctoring of this test though, there was an incident worth writing about.
Before the exam, I told everyone to put any of their notes or notebooks on the bookshelf near the door. One of my best students, active and full of natural leadership, had grabbed his folder a few minutes earlier, so I double-checked with him, “Did you put your things away?”
“I don’t have any!” he said, and something about his tone made me suspicious. I lifted up his chair, and there it was underneath. I looked at him. He looked at me, not sure how to recover. He could tell from my gaze that I was bewildered and disappointed. I left him, got the other students going, and let him know that he’d have to stay the entire test period, two hours, instead of leaving whenever he finished his test. After a bit of discussion with Eve and Ian about the best course of action, I got a piece of lined paper and wrote two writing prompts in Chinese for him. On one side, “Please write why you told the lie. Use English and Chinese.” On the other side, “Please write how you think that lie makes me feel. Use English and Chinese.”
As expected he finished his test within an hour and was eager to leave and go play. When I determined he’d done his best on the test, I handed him the other sheet. As the rest of the students finished their tests, he was quiet, sometimes writing, usually staring at the floor or the ceiling or the wall. Soon, all the other students were finished, and he came to me in a silence that I’d never seen him in before. His eyes were teared up, but he was trying to keep a straight, proud face. I said a few things to him about how I took this seriously because I think he’s very important. We were in the hallway, and people kept coming by and I could tell he was embarrassed, so we went back in the classroom. I asked if there was anything he wanted to say. He said, “I can’t,” and returned to his silence.
We sat down, and in my broken Chinese, I tried to tell him everything that is true: I think he’s an awesome person, I’ve seen him do great things, he will be an amazing leader, and deep down I know he is such a good friend. I told him that the lie he told today isn’t who he really is deep down, and that’s why I don’t like it so much. I told him that we all mess up sometimes, and that even when he does bad things, I will still always like him. But… it just didn’t feel like enough. His head was sunk down with his hands folded between his legs, avoiding eye contact with me. I know him well, and I knew that he absolutely hates to be thought ill of. He always wants to be liked, and it crushes him when a teacher he respects thinks poorly of him. And I thought of what I needed to say.
I asked him, “Are you a Christian?”
He lifted his head a little, “What?”
“Are you a Christian?”
“What’s that?” he asked.
“It means, do you believe in Jesus?”
“No,” he answered, “I don’t believe in that. “
“Okay,” I replied. “Well, I believe in Him, and I know Him, and that’s why I feel this way. I have done lots of bad things like lying. My family has done bad things, everyone has done bad things. But God actually loved us first. When we do bad things, it makes Him sad, but He still loves us. When I do bad things, He’s sad, but He loves me. When you do bad things, He’s sad, but He loves you. That’s how I’ve learned to love people too. When you lied, it made me sad, but it doesn’t change and will never change that I love you. So don’t worry about whether everyone likes you. In your life, some people will like you and a few people won’t. No matter what, God always loves you, even if you don’t believe in Him now. And I love you too. Do you get it?”
He nodded a little, head still down where it had remained.
“Can I pray for you?”
“Can I pray for you?”
“Just talking to God.”
“Oh, no no no, that’s okay, you don’t have to.”
“Well, I want to.”
“But I don’t believe in that.”
“That’s okay, I do. But I’ll have to pray in English because my Chinese isn’t so good.”
He was silent again, and I prayed before he could protest. I prayed out loud that God would show him how much He loves him. That he would believe someday, believe how loved he is. I believe God will answer that prayer, and I can’t wait to see the world-changer God makes him into.
Maybe you’re in this students’ place. You’ve messed up, and you’re caught and ashamed. Know this simple truth one more time: God still loves you, and nothing you do can cause Him to love you more or less. Only in the knowledge that we don’t have to perform can we ever truly live well.
Maybe you’re in my place. Someone has messed up, and you’re confronted with it. Love them. Tell them how much God loves them, and let the gospel find its basis there.
I wish I hadn't needed to have this conversation. But at the same time, I'm so glad I did. I didn't think the last class would be the one where I got to pour into him perhaps more than ever before. But I'm so glad that it was.