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.