Invoking Your Citizenship

Always remember--your #citizenship is in heaven. via @blestbutstrestI made a mistake and I felt like a failure. I even got called into the principal’s office and chastised for hurting the cafeteria lady’s feelings. It all started with a great assignment gone awry.

As part of my English III curriculum, I had students read and analyze the Declaration of Independence. After a thorough analysis of exactly what the document included, I decided to let my students get creative and write their own ‘Declaration of Independence’ from something that would resonate with them.

One group of students wrote an impassioned ‘Declaration Against the Tyranny of Horrible Cafeteria Food.’ I secretly agreed with many of the points they made, and had a good chuckle in my office over their witty words.

Unbeknownst to me, my freedom from food tyranny fighting cherubs decided to photocopy their declaration and post it all over campus.

And so I got called into the principal’s office and accused of having a lapse in professional judgment. The cafeteria lady had burst into tears when she saw my students’ declaration posted on the cafeteria door (I think my cherubs had even gone so far as to collect signatures of other students outside their group to add credence to their complaint). The entire kitchen staff had had their feelings hurt by my thoughtless assignment.

I nodded my head at every accusation and point the principal drove home, and hastily agreed to writing a formal apology to the cafeteria staff as well as making personal amends to the head cook for my thoughtless actions.

The minute I arrived home I ran upstairs and dropped on my knees next to my bed and burst into tears. This incident confirmed what I’d secretly thought all along. I was a horrible teacher. I was a horrible person, too. How in the world would I stand in front of the student body later that evening and deliver a week of prayer talk? (I had gotten roped into speaking last minute when the scheduled speaker had to cancel due to a family emergency).

By the time the program rolled around that evening, my face looked like I’d gained five pounds in five hours and I had to resort to concealer to cover up the blotches around my eyes. I struggled through my short talk, but my voice cracked at various times and I even had to stop once or twice to wipe away some tears.

As soon as my part in the program ended, I hurried out to a field behind the chapel and fell to my knees again. Whereupon I indulged in another bout of self-flagellation and more tears. I would never be a master teacher. I obviously failed at public speaking. The message I had prepared and been so sure about had been sullied by my lack of self-control over my emotions. I hadn’t done enough, prepared enough, thought enough ahead.

Eventually, I shut up long enough to hear the gentle voice of Jesus whisper in my ear, “You don’t have to be enough. I am.”

This incident came to mind as I read Acts 22 the other morning. Paul visits the temple in Jerusalem after a long absence and the Jews pitch a fit that results in a near riot and causes the Roman soldiers to intervene. Once they have him safely outside the barracks, Paul asks for a chance to tell his side of the story. He holds his audience captive until he declares that God sent him to help the Gentiles find salvation. The crowd erupts again and the Roman commander orders that Paul be flogged and then questioned as to why the Jews hate him.

As the soldiers stretch Paul out for his punishment, he invokes his Roman citizenship—which promptly stops the proceedings. Roman citizens have rights—ones that preclude flogging and forcing a prisoner to testify against himself, evidently.

Why did reading Acts 22 remind me of the almost-forgotten incident of the cafeteria revolt? Because it typifies what I do time and time again. Some one criticizes me (whether it’s justified or not) and I immediately start flogging myself and searching for answers to other people’s accusations and questions.

I shower myself with insults and jeers that cut just as deeply as a Roman whip. “You really messed up! You’re not fit to be a parent! You probably shouldn’t be teaching! How could you let your students hurt someone’s feelings like that? Maybe you should become a garbage collector!”

In my frenzy of self-recrimination I fail to listen to the voice that tries to remind me of my citizenship. The voice that wants to offer comfort—“It’s o.k., my child. I forgive you. What matters is that you brought your contrite heart to me. Your citizenship isn’t of this world. You’re heaven’s child now, and we’ve got you covered.”

Our humanness makes us sinful. We will fall short. We will mess up. But the solution isn’t beating ourselves up to the point of tears, dysfunction or depression. (tweet this)

God forgives us—all we have to do is ask. We can then claim our heavenly citizenship and have the confidence to go back out and try again—knowing that we are beloved children of the Almighty. And he is always enough.

Anita currently teaches English to 7th-12th graders. She describes herself as a 'recovering cancer caregiver' who gives thanks daily that her husband has been cancer-free for ten years.

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  • Oh, I’ve been there… on so many levels: as a daughter, a mom, a sister, a wife, and as a teacher. My fragile ego shatters at the smallest tap and I can’t stand up to the self-inflicted accusations. We’ve done it before and we’ll go there again. But you did the right thing: you invited the only Perfect One into your pain, and allowed His truth and healing in. This is such a moving and well-crafted testimony. It encouraged me. Thank you!
    Karen Brown recently posted…The Woman in TearsMy Profile

    • I’m glad you found it encouraging–we seem to belong to the group of fragile-ego-people who bravely throw themselves upon the mercy of the world, time after time. It’s a good thing we Have a Father whose loving whispers encourage us (and, you never know what kind of a beautiful witness you are for other hurting people who might be afraid of being vulnerable). Hugs to you, sweet friend!

  • I LOVED THIS. i do this self flagellation all the time. I think its a way of thinking we are remedying our brokenness. By literally beating it out of ourselves. I remember doing this as a young child. Very young and how hopeless that approach is. I think it is something that Satan loves to sink us into. When Grace doesn’t do that. Grace prompts love, because its never up to us. I had one of those moments yesterday. Really i’ve been living that for 2 months and I read Romans 8: 38-39 yesterday and I have to say that it really helped me. To see that not even that line, “the present” can separate us from the love of God. Even if that was me. And my mess. Love it.
    Somer recently posted…Coffee For Your Heart, IndefatigableMy Profile

    • I’m so glad that you’ve found a verse that helps you through those temptations to beat yourself up. He is enough. He takes our no good, very bad, pretty awful and makes it all better because He is enough. Citizenship has its benefits!

  • Oh we are so good at beating ourselves up … may we feel His gentle touch, know that we are cherished, and be on our way to live life well.

    I bet you’re a fabulous teacher, friend … wish I had more like you way back in the day!

    Linda@Creekside recently posted…A Vintage Ornament DaybookMy Profile

    • Aw, thank you for your kind words! I figure that what I might lack in teaching skill and execution I can make up for in loving my students and wanting them to succeed!

  • So much for freedom of the press – I as a teacher as well, find it difficult to balance political correctness and real learning. I do not think our Founding Fathers were politically correct. Did I miss something?
    Debra Alexander recently posted…Whose angle or star are you?My Profile

    • Freedom of the press at a small, Christian school looks a little different from freedom of the press everywhere else ;). It is a conundrum isn’t it, that we aren’t as free (especially in public schools, where I have also taught) as one would think!
      Anita Ojeda recently posted…Invoking Your CitizenshipMy Profile

  • What a great application of this verse, Anita. I never thought of proclaiming my heavenly citizenship to MYSELF to keep from beating myself up. I tend to do it too, every time I mess up! (Who KNEW the kids would post that all over the school. Started out harmless enough…) 🙂
    Betsy recently posted…Three Secrets for Hanging on to JoyMy Profile

  • Amen! God does indeed forgive us especially when we come to him with a contrite heart. I know I have beaten myself up over things I have done and said that maybe I shouldn’t have done or said. Yet God still loves me…still loves us!
    Tara recently posted…Testimony TuesdayMy Profile

    • Amen! No matter what we do, there’s always room on his lap for us to whisper a confession and receive a hug.
      Anita Ojeda recently posted…Is it for Reals?My Profile

  • It’s both humbling and amazing when we realize/remember just how easy it really is to obtain forgiveness, isn’t it? Love this, and you!
    ~Karrilee~ recently posted…Why I Love a Flash Mob… and why you probably do, too!My Profile

  • Anita,

    Oh, I’ve been down that path and then realized it is not the Father’s voice because He doesn’t condemn (Romans 8:1)….I love how you heard God speaking love and truth to your sad heart…He loves you and forgives you…no one is perfect and we will all mess up but it is so hard to forgive ourselves and receive His grace…I’m sure you were an example of humble contrition to the students…Merry and blessed Christmas to you and your family…((hugs))
    Dolly@Soulstops recently posted…3 Ways You Can Be Like MaryMy Profile

    • Thank you for your sweet words, Dolly! I survived the day, and God even blessed me with a sweet student’s words the next day telling me how much my worship talk meant to her. I love those grace notes!
      Anita Ojeda recently posted…Voices in the Desert: A Child of PromiseMy Profile

  • We are always so much harder on ourselves than The One who could be but isn’t! Quite a story. How did the cafeteria staff receive your apology?
    Susan Shipe recently posted…the 17th day of christmasMy Profile

    • The cafeteria ladies graciously accepted my apologies and we ended up having an open conversation about menus and changes that the kids would enjoy.
      Anita Ojeda recently posted…Something for NothingMy Profile

  • Anita-
    I could relate to this post on so many levels. In fact yesterday was quite a day at school and I burst into tears with a colleague over being a terrible teacher at the end of the day. One word or one presumed glance can have us in a puddle on the floor. Oh but the reminder that we are enough with God because he is everything is a shout of joy in our bleak worlds. Thank you for such a timely post! Have a blessed Christmas!
    Mary Geisen recently posted…The Babe is ComingMy Profile

    • I’m so sorry you had a rough day at school, Mary! Our God is all we need and I hope you felt his heavenly Kleenex yesterday and his heavenly armor today as you shepherd your squirrels, um, students through these last days before vacation!
      Anita Ojeda recently posted…Voices in the Desert: A Child of PromiseMy Profile

  • Oh this message is rather timely for me, Anita. So I just want to say THANK YOU for sharing. Truly . . . thank you.
    Beth S. recently posted…Peace in WaitingMy Profile

    • Hugs to you, sweet friend! May your season of celebrating the advent be filled with wonder and joy :).

  • Aww my heart hurts for what you went through. I do that all too often and let satan tear me down more. He sure knows our weak spots, but I am so grateful for a God who has more power and loves me enough to accept me!
    Sarah Donegan recently posted…Call Me Old SchoolMy Profile

    • Amen! I know that each crazy lesson I learn might hurt at the time, but I’m usually better because of it :).