I’m surrounded! I think I’m running low on oxygen! Just one at a time! Please step back from the desk! I must admit, these are all comments I’ve been tempted to make as a substitute teacher. Actually, to be completely forthright, I’ve sometimes wanted to shout them in a desperate attempt to keep my sanity.
These responses have little to do with the students. The problem is with me. Too much interaction at once completely overwhelms me. Too much of anything easily confuses most people. I handle issues better one at a time.
As a substitute teacher, I find students overwhelmingly helpful. Generally, the younger they are, the more “helpful” they tend to be. From the moment I enter a classroom, I begin to receive tips on classroom protocol. The miniature “instructors” cover the gamut from lunch schedule, to paper collecting procedure, reading groups, classroom rules, and seatwork policies. And recess! A substitute teacher has very little likelihood of forgetting when recess begins. (Perhaps when it ends, but NEVER when it begins!)
High school students make certain the substitute knows when a class ends and which part of the assignment their teacher doesn’t usually require. Other than that, they generally “go with the flow.” (The only hint that I’ve committed a faux pas comes in the form of chuckles and glances back and forth. I expect those moments.)
Regardless, these eager founts of information crowd and spout out information at a frantic pace. It seems about one third of the class is updating information for me at any one time. However, each piece of advice is usually shared about ten times, with each pupil wanting to keep me in the know.
I appreciate the students’ helpfulness. I know they find a comfortable niche with their teacher, especially by spring semester. Young ones, in particular, like their routines undisturbed. Several considerations they don’t take into account, though, are the teacher usually leaves rather detailed plans for me to follow, there can be more than one correct way of accomplishing a task, and I have over thirty years in the classroom and am quite familiar with lesson plans and procedures. I’ve made most mistakes already and have learned to quickly recover and take back charge. So for the most part, I can handle most classroom situations.
I usually begin the day reassuring the students their teacher trusts what I will do, even if it varies slightly from their normal routine. Sometimes the reassurance works. Sometimes, it’s pointless, and they still inundate me with an over-abundance of advice and questions.
Yesterday, I taught third grade. The class behaved well, but they were fairly certain I would flounder without their assistance. Despite my telling them to stay seated, they were intent on making my job easier by noisily surrounding my desk. I could not assimilate all those little voices and questions at once. It almost overwhelmed me. I was tempted to ask them to “Just take a number, please, and I’ll get to you as soon as I can.” Bless their hearts. This teacher could only listen to one child at a time.
As I considered this personal limitation, I glimpsed again the greatness of God. I came to several realizations. First, not only is He available for me to talk to at any time of day or night, but He is also available to everyone else. At any time. From anywhere. In any language. For any reason whatsoever.
I cannot imagine the myriad conversations in which He is simultaneously involved. And He listens. He understands. He cares. He can handle all of it with no frustration, confusion, or misunderstanding. Nothing overwhelms Him. This particular attribute boggles my mind. He possesses an unbounded attention span! I need not wait in line or try to catch His attention. As a matter of fact, He listens for my voice. He wants to hear it. My words will not get lost amidst the throngs of voices surrounding His throne.
Second, trying to give Him advice would be ridiculous, even less necessary than the advice I receive as a substitute teacher. Yet how often I find myself offering Him my “helpful”suggestions on how He should handle a situation. Silly me! His wisdom is infinite and his experience is eternal. He will make no mistakes. He has the Plan, the Plan of the ages.
After pondering these truths, I came to several personal insights. I don’t want to disappoint the Lord, knowing He’s longing to hear my prayer, yet how often does He listen with no response from me? I also recognize the foolishness of offering my requests with a blueprint for His approval. I should rather approach Him with arms wide open to receive His answer.
I realize how much I need to be a student of prayer. I have much to learn!
“Evening, and morning, and at noon, will I pray, and cry aloud: and he shall hear my voice.” Psalm 55:17