As a teacher, one of my key responsibilities is to let parents know when their children are failing, especially the seniors. Four years of English is a graduation requirement. If students are failing, we need to address and correct it as early in the academic year as possible.
A few years ago, I scheduled a meeting with a student’s mother and his guidance counselor. His performance was dismal, though he was not disruptive or impolite in class. His main issue was a lack of follow-through in completing his work. From my vantage point, he was a bit lazy — a classic case of “senioritis”.
On meeting day, a beautiful, well-dressed Muslim woman appeared a little early in the guidance office. I noticed how nice she looked and immediately assumed this boy was spoiled and wasn’t performing well simply because he didn’t have anything to worry about.
NOTE: This was a huge mistake — the kind of mistake Big Jerks make because they assume things.
As we spoke, a heart-rending story unfolded. By the end of it, I wished I could crawl under the nearest piece of particleboard furniture. Apparently, this young man’s father had never played a consistent part in his life. The boy was the only son of a single mother, a mother who had fallen ill that year. She was unable to work.
My student worked 40 hours a week in addition to his half-day school schedule in order to help support his ailing mother. Lord help me. I was dead wrong.
But that’s not all.
In addition to her illness, this poor woman’s second husband had passed away earlier that year. Besides making her a widow, it robbed the boy of the only solid father figure he knew. This loss sent the family into financial upheaval.
She said she worried her son was depressed and that he was working a lot. We discussed some possible options for him get back on track since he didn’t have a lot of spare time. Mom admitted that he could do better with his studies and promised to speak with him. She was absolutely gracious and helpful. She made no excuses for her son, despite the clearly less-than-ideal family situation.
Then — and I wish I was kidding — this teary-eyed woman whipped out a Rubbermaid container from her purse. It was full of freshly made baklava. She put it on the desk.
“I brought you a treat,” she said. “Happy Holidays. I don’t know what you celebrate but wanted to do this.”
I felt like a monster. Not because I had outwardly said anything condescending to anyone but because I’d made judgments based on assumptions. As I awkwardly took three small pastries and gingerly wrapped them in a Kleenex, pangs of shame set in.
The meeting ended and I thanked her for coming in and for her generosity, assuring her that I would be in touch. As I walked back to my classroom, I choked down one of the delicate homemade morsels. I might as well have been chewing on broken-up concrete. It was hard to enjoy an undeserved treat.
I’d been so fixated on the fact that her son wasn’t doing what he was supposed to in my class that I came to the judgmental conclusion that it was somehow her fault. My own hot-headed sanctimony weighed heavily on my heart as words of scripture raced through my head:
“Do not judge so that you will not be judged. For in the way you judge, you will be judged; and by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you.” (Matthew 7:1–2, NASB)
I was ashamed. Shouldn’t I behave better than this after walking with the Lord for so long? My aim is always to grow and be more like Him. But I fall short at times. Thankfully, God’s love is not based on my performance. He loves me unconditionally.
“… But where sin abounded, grace did much more abound.” (Romans 5:20, KJV)
I believe God forgave me for that foolish misstep. However, I felt convicted and way too mortified by that episode to leap to such conclusions in the future. God bless that dear Muslim lady, who unwittingly reminded me of my responsibility to honor Jesus by loving others without judgment. Thank God for His daily grace.