Sitting down to plan my lessons for the next week. Tuesday’s the big day, the day my supervisor will observe me during fourth hour. Better prepare a good presentation. She can be very difficult to please, and her evaluation could affect my entire career.
Spending hours crafting the perfect lesson for that period. No energy left to think too deeply about the one that follows. Instead, scribbling a note in my Plan Book to do an informal activity that allows the children to make more independent choices. I rarely do that with this group because they don’t handle freedom very well.
Tuesday rolls around, fourth period begins. I give a great performance. But my supervisor doesn’t show up.
This isn’t the first time this has happened. I assume she’ll call me after school is out to reschedule, as she’s always done before. But no. I’m gathering the materials for fifth period when she walks in.
I know the informal activity will challenge my kids’ self-control. And I know that the awareness that they’re being watched will make it even worse. I can’t do it. They would lose it, and I would pay the price.
Unlike many of my fellow teachers, I’m not good at improvising. But I’ve had a lesson brewing in my mind for the last few weeks. A unique way to teach a basic concept that should work well with this particular group. Taking a deep breath and gritting my teeth, I plunge in, making it up off the top of my head. Tense, anxious, nervous, angry with my supervisor, it’s not one of my best presentations. But it’s okay. It’s got some real strong points.
The children leave. My supervisor sits down with me to review my performance. And tears me to shreds. She picks up on my legitimate weaknesses, but that’s only the beginning. She warps my words. She takes them out of context. She reads them back to me in a sarcastic tone of voice.
I’d once heard that in a situation like this it’s not a good idea to nod your head or murmur m-hm, as I would normally do just to show her that I’m listening. It’s better to say, “I hear you,” than to appear to be agreeing with her.
For fifteen minutes, until my next group of students walks in, my supervisor lobs one inaccurate accusation after another. I try to keep the anger and rebellion from showing in my eyes. People who openly disagree with her have been known to either resign suddenly or be subjected to ongoing torment. As calmly as I can, I repeat, “I hear you.”
The school day ends with my head on my desk, sobs shaking my body, tears cascading down my face. The following weeks are spent in overwhelming apathy. My assignment for next fall will leave me under the same supervisor while separating me from the most supportive teachers that I know. I don’t think I could handle it. I turn in my resignation as I walk out the door at the end of the year.
This all happened decades ago, and I think I made the right decision in leaving that position. As far as I could tell, I was following God’s leading. But lately I’ve wondered: When I’m in a difficult situation like this job, should I take the opposition as a sign that it’s God’s will for me to leave, or as an indication that Satan is trying to lure me away from the place where God wants me to be?
We Americans are so saturated with the prosperity gospel, it’s easy for even the most dedicated, most biblical Christians to assume that God wants us to be happy. When circumstances become too disagreeable, we often take that as His hint that we should be looking for a way out.
Sometimes He’s used an irritating environment to wake me up as I’m cruising along on autopilot. Sometimes I’ve stayed in a job or a ministry or a church longer than He intended because it’s comfortable, because it’s familiar, because I don’t like change. The only way the Lord has gotten my attention and pointed me in a new direction is by disturbing my peace, by introducing problems that get me thinking about other options.
But I have this tendency to think that suffering is always a sign that I’m not in God’s will. Do I detect a toxic atmosphere at work, at church, in any other organization that I’m involved with? Must be time to head out. Am I being asked to do something unpleasant, something beyond my obvious strengths? God must not want me here anymore.
Is it really time to leave? Or is it time to minister to those who are causing the difficulties? Time to love those who hate me (Matthew 5:44). Time to return good for evil (Romans 12:17). Maybe even time to be used by God to overcome evil with good (Romans 12:21).
The potential for healing
What kind of difference would it make in our divided nation if we as Christians turned from the assumption that God wants us to be happy to the possibility that He wants us to be peacemakers (Matthew 5:9)? How countercultural could I be if I endured the toxic environment, praying for, and extending grace to, those difficult people who desperately need it?
It would take a certain spiritual maturity. I suspect that one reason why God led me out from under my supervisor’s thumb was because I didn’t have the spiritual strength to handle her personality wisely and well. Have I developed that strength in the intervening years?
As I’ve grown in my walk with Christ, my sensitivity to His leading has improved. But this is one area where I can find myself floundering. My will, my inclination, my desire is to avoid suffering. If it hurts, God wants me to leave. Doesn’t He? But maybe, just maybe, that pain is the best indication that I’m right where God wants me to be, and Satan is the one who wants me to go.