Petitions and Praises
Submitted by Guest Author, Audrey Silva
Turning off the lights to my barren classroom, my chest tightens, my throat closes, tears well up in my eyes as I look at my classroom stripped of any recognition of the students or the teacher inhabitants that once occupied the space. Every bulletin board removed void of any student work, posters and room decorations shoved in overflowing cabinets, textbooks and novels placed inside of trash bags to keep them unharmed from the deep cleaning that was coming. Carrying work to still grade, textbooks, and personal effects that I chose to take home I headed for my vehicle, grateful to be leaving alongside my best friend, yet sad because I don’t know when I will see her again. This is not a vacation, in my 20 years of teaching, I’ve never experienced a situation quite like this.
As I drove home, I reflected on the past 24 hours, that morning alone found me awake at 3:00am, unable to return to sleep. I was filled with worry and anxiety. Laying in bed, I practiced the “Breath Prayer,” that I recently learned at The Journey: Cohort 2; inhaling “God is here,” exhaling “God is peace.” I tried to be still and calm myself so I could hopefully go back to sleep. Unfortunately, after hours of tossing and turning with mind racing and troublesome thoughts, I decided to just get up and start my day. I prayed again. I asked for “God’s peace to pass through me to my students, that He would go before me and stay behind me, and for His will to be done.” God was truly with me, but my heart was filled with anxiety and worry over the unknown in the days to come.
Looking back, over the past week God has been beside me during this COVID-19 situation at work, home, and within my heart. The Lord was with me at work, when my students stepped up and helped prepare my classroom for deep cleaning. Their sweet words of affirmation, or similar feelings of sadness over the loss of their ‘home’ within my classroom; their ‘safe’ place. I was filled with a sense of composure knowing that God would provide for us. Still, I was worried and anxious for my students. My school demographics are over 90% free and reduced lunch, with over 87% English Language Learners. Many of our students live in rough neighborhoods where gangs are active and present. Due to our social economical status most of my high school students will be taking care of their younger siblings because their parents still have to work to provide food for their family. Some may have to pick up a part-time job, or increase their hours at local supermarkets and restaurants to help their family make ends meet. Some students may go without food, electricity, internet, or even an adult who takes care of their needs. My heart has been a tornado of worry and anxiety, realizing that I can’t provide a reliable digital pathway for my students to continue learning. My mind quickly goes down the rabbit tunnel, “If only,” “I should have,” “What if,” and the list goes on mounting countless ways that “I could have,” or “should have been a better teacher.” Reminding myself that God is in control wasn’t easy to do, but once again I found myself surrendering to God and letting go of my teaching expectations and offering grace to myself, God reminded me that I am certainly not alone in this situation.
At home, God has been with me as I now navigate a “shelter-in-place” mentality and being a “home-school facilitator” for my teenage daughter. Almost every teacher will agree that teaching your own children comes with a completely different skill set. I’ve enjoyed being able to cook meals for my family, finally start an exercise regime, and invite a rhythm of rest. Yes, I still have stacks of grading to do, but for now I’m giving myself permission to put it on the back burner and to enjoy time with my family.
I am mindful of the times that I watch the news or how long I have the COVID-19 media coverage playing on the television in our home. I’ve noticed that my daughter can’t handle the excessive coverage, she needs to disengage from the panic and fear that the coverage stirs up. God again was with me providing clarity and insight on how to parent during this pandemic. I’ve learned to keep the news at a lower volume and limit the time we seek updates. Instead, we take turns choosing old Disney movies to watch to help lighten the atmosphere, or we’ve been streaming Christian music playlists to connect us with God. Likewise, sitting in a room filled with silence isn’t bad either, as it gives all of us the opportunity to hear God speak to us.
In my own anxious heart, God is certainly with me. I’m taking time from my normally busy and hectic life, to slow down and breathe. To live a simpler life, a more peaceful and content life, to glean from the Lord lessons I might have missed when I engage in my chaotic schedule. Even this “shelter-in-place” is a hidden gift from God, like water during a drought. I’m using this restorative time to center myself daily and sit in silence with God. I have found that this practice has helped soothe my anxious heart. If you haven’t sat still in a long time, I encourage you to try it a few times. It certainly hasn’t been an easy skill to learn. My mind is used to making decisions quickly within my classroom; so to sit still and ponder and wait upon the Lord has not been easy to say the least. Yet, when I am able to sit for a short period of time, quietly before God, He meets me where I am and His peace and calmness fill my body. My heart no longer is weighed down by the anxiety of the unknowns around me, but instead I am centered on God and His faithful love and guidance.
In The Message, Eugene H. Peterson translated Philippians 4:6-7, “Don’t fret or worry. Instead of worrying, pray. Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns. Before you know it, a sense of God’s wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down. It’s wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the center of your life.” To me, this is all that we can do during this unsettling and unknown time, to turn our “petitions and praises” into prayer and to allow God to “displace worry” and have Him become the center of our life and focus.