In August, I volunteered to teach sixth graders for our parish religious education program. I was encouraged to do something apostolic by my spiritual director, Father Steve, and since I'm always perfectly docile and obedient (ahem), I complied when this teaching opportunity arose.
But the experience has been...how shall I put it?
While I love all of the children individually, as a group, they are....how shall I put it?
All of the above applies, but I'll spare you sordid examples lest I tarnish their already tilting halos (and mine, for that matter).
On Tuesday, when I got home, I was so exhausted from my failed efforts at managing and teaching the class, I ate dinner and fell asleep on the couch while John was reading to all the kids.
"When you called home, I could tell by the tone of your voice you were tired," John told me when I woke up at 10:00 pm, profusely apologizing for abandoning him in our nightly bedtime routine.
"I want to quit teaching that class," I confessed.
We talked about why and mostly it’s because it’s a lot of work to plan and get us all there each week. Yet, if I'm honest, the workload isn’t the real reason I want to quit.
The real reason I want to be done is because no one, least of all the kids, appreciates what I'm doing. The job of teaching is hard enough--thankless, really--but what makes it worse is no one is stroking my ego. The thing is, I keep waiting for my students (and again, if we're being honest here, my entire family-- my husband and my kids and even Jesus Himself) to say,
"Oh yes, Colleen, you're doing a bang up job. Every morning you wake and feed and clothe and educate the weak and defenseless and you do so in such an honorable way. And look at you! You’re teaching a Catechism class! My, you are a fabulous girl, aren't you?"
But I'm not getting that.
What I'm getting is worse--complaints, ridicule, cantankerous behavior and I think, This, Lord? You want me to deal with this? I'm doing you a favor! Couldn't you be making it a little easier on me?
And Jesus says, "No, I can't. This? It's your job. When you're a servant, that's what you do."
I'm a lousy servant.
I was reminded I shouldn't expect anyone, especially Jesus, to prance around singing my praises when I re-read Jesus' description of the servant in Luke's gospel (17:7-10) last week. Here's a person who has worked all day in the fields and he's come in from a hard day's work and the master says to him, "Prepare something for me to eat and when you are done with your work, then you can have your meal."
Jesus is clear in his description--the master of the house doesn't say, "Oh, come on in--you, poor, pitiful thing, you! Pull up a chair and grab a bite to eat. You've worked hard and you need a break, poor, little darling."
Instead, Jesus tells us the master says, "Serve me first and then get something to eat yourselves." Jesus then explains the servants' response should be, 'We are unprofitable servants; we have done what we were obliged to do.'
And that should be my attitude too.
My self-proclaimed status as a Christian should make me happy to serve in the name of Christ, especially when it's difficult. He's given me a vital role, He needs me in the battlefield, and He never promised it would be easy. Jesus Christ surely wasn't hearing shouts of gratitude from the cross, so why should I expect different?
In his Spiritual Exercises, Saint Ignatius of Loyola wrote,
"Man is created to praise, reverence, and serve God our Lord, and by this means to save his soul. And the other things on the face of the earth are created for man and that they may help him in prosecuting the end for which he is created. From this it follows that man is to use them as much as they help him on to his end, and ought to rid himself of them so far as they hinder him as to it. For this it is necessary to make ourselves indifferent to all created things in all that is allowed to the choice of our free will and is not prohibited to it; so that, on our part, we want not health rather than sickness, riches rather than poverty, honor rather than dishonor, long rather than short life, and so in all the rest; desiring and choosing only what is most conducive for us to the end for which we are created."
According to St. Ignatius, these difficulties I face both with my class and in family life are designed to help me love God better and get to heaven. There is a reason I was chosen to teach the most challenging group in the entire religious education program and some of the reasons are:
to teach me humility,
to teach me to serve without counting the costs,
and to help me to imitate Christ (who gave in a such a self-sacrificing way he sits waiting for us in the form of a tiny host in tabernacles across America).
But mainly I think I was chosen because it's my job.
I'm a servant, however ungrateful and ineffective I may be, and therefore, service is what I get to do.
This column originally appeared at Catholic Digest and we thank them for giving permission to reprint Colleen’s work here.
Copyright 2012 Colleen Duggan
About the Author
Colleen Duggan is the author of Good Enough Is Good Enough: Confessions Of An Imperfect Catholic Mom, published by Ave Maria Press. She is a Catholic writer, teacher and speaker whose work has appeared in Catholic Digest, Creative Catechist, CatholicMom.com, Aleteia, and Integrated Catholic Life.