“Yes, it is Sister Mary Margaret. We give them to the kids and ask them to work on them at home.” Sister Mary Margaret’s eyes narrowed, gone was her familiar smile. “The thing is, Sister, the kids already know the things on those worksheets; they want to learn practical things about God.”
“And, just who decides what practical things they should learn?”
“Well, they do.” When the furrow in her brows deepened and the corners of her lips turned farther down, I rushed to explain. “Really, Sister, they do. The kids really want to know things that will help them live today, not just when they are grown-ups.”
“And, you think that our published worksheets…used all over the English-speaking world…are not teaching them anything?” My, but the air was getting cold inside that building. “Not to mention the expense of obtaining those sheets for the students, only to have their teacher discard them like advertisements in a newspaper.”
“No, well, I guess I can see how it might look like that on the surface, but it’s not like that at all. We look at the lesson each week and briefly speak with the kids about it; but if they already know the lesson it is trying to teach, we tell them to read the story at home and fill in the puzzles and games. We always encourage them to do the worksheets. We just don’t take the class time to do them.”
“But, dear lady, this class is exactly what that’s supposed to be for, you know. The kids just take them home and toss them; they aren’t reading them. Their parents are not happy.”
“I’m sorry about that, Sister. We should have been more insistent that they do the lesson, and maybe bring it to class for us to correct or something like that.” I imagined Sister Mary Margaret squeezing the life out of her forearms inside the sleeves of her robe, where her hands grasped. “Truly, the kids are learning things in this class that will help them through school and life, in general. Things that they want to learn.” The stern-faced nun was, definitely, not convinced.
“Well, we’ll see about how much they are learning, and just how important it is that they learn what they want to; instead of what the leaders of the church’s educational programs think they need to learn.” Groan, this wasn’t going well at all. “So, ladies, I’ll just be asking the children what it is that they’re learning here in this classroom.”
Of course, Liz and I knew what the kids had been learning, but what would they tell Sister Mary Margaret? They were still Hot Dogs, after all, and anything could come out of those little mouths on any given moment. Would they tell her or would they clown around, thinking she was not seriously searching answers for her questions? More Help, Jesus! Prayers rocketed Heavenward.
The three of us entered the classroom together as the children began to arrive. Liz looked at me, her eyebrows arched, her gaze at the rolled up “Prayer Request” chart. I nodded and the two of us moved to hang it up. Of course, Sister Mary Margaret’s eyes followed us. Her expression didn’t give anything away; we had no idea if she approved or not.
“Okay, kids, today Sister Mary Margaret is visiting our class. While Liz finishes up recording your attendance, our Principal will ask you a few questions. Please, answer her the best you can.” The tension in the room was palpable; the children, squirming in their seats, looked as nervous as I felt. Every little pair of eyes focused on Sister Mary Margaret as she moved to stand in the front of the room. “Children, do you get worksheets every week?” Heads nodded all around the classroom. “And, do you actually do those worksheets?” Little faces looked down at fingers clasping and unclasping on the desks, while pairs of sneakers rubbed the floor beneath; my stomach turned over and over, as I gripped my shaking hands under the desk before me. “Hmm? So, it doesn’t appear that any of you actually do the worksheets then?”
“Well, Sojourner tells us to do it when we get home, but we don’t always do it. Sometimes I did, in the beginning…” Bless that little girl who had the courage to speak, even if she couldn’t finish her sentence. The rest of the class was silent, cold stone silent. I just wanted to jump up, throw my arms around them all and tell each kid it was all right, things would be okay; but no such possibility presented itself in the chill of this room.
“I see. Well, are you aware that every other class in this building is doing their worksheets in class and not being asked to do the work outside of class?” Their little heads moved to look at each other, then back down to the desk in front of them. “So, I take it that this is not news to any of you, then?”
“It’s okay, kids, you can answer Sister Mary Margaret. Tell her the truth.” The group didn’t look up, but everyone did nod their heads in agreement that they knew.
“Well, then, children. Just what is it that you’ve been using this class time to learn?” Hands shot up all over the room. My tossing and turning stomach now formed a huge cannonball inside, and I thought I’d be sick right there in front of everyone. Please, God, help them explain to her, I prayed silently to the only Person who could help us now.
Sarah stood next to her desk as Sister Mary Margaret recognized her. “Sister, my gerbil was sick, really sick. Daddy said that he would die because he was old, and old gerbil’s die, everyone knows that. But…well, look at our Prayer Chart back there…my name is the first one. We prayed and God healed my gerbil. That was just after our class started with Mrs. Sojourner, and he’s still just fine now! (About two months by that time.) Since then, I’ve known that God hears my prayers, and I pray a lot more, too.” Sister Mary Margaret looked over at the chart and nodded for Sarah to sit down.
I was shocked that David waited to be recognized by Sister Mary Margaret, as waiting was never his strong point if he had something to say, but he did. Then he stood, perhaps a little less cocky, but still pretty rigidly confident in what he had to say. “Yeah, just take a look at the chart. We all have a story. But, there’s more than that. I mean, we learned stuff from the Bible, too. Like it’s important for us all to do our part. If even one of us let’s go of the mat, the paralyzed guy will fall off and he could die or something so Jesus wouldn’t have a chance to heal him when they put him down through the roof.” Another little voice came from near David, but I didn’t see the body who spoke.
“And, we need to be willing to keep at it until the job is done, because the room was too full for the men to take the sick guy through the door to Jesus. We have to come together and look at things and see how we could do it another way to get the guy to Jesus.” David turned back around to face Sister Mary Margaret and finished the other child’s point.
“Even if you have to dig a hole in the roof to get the sick guy to Jesus, then you just do it, but everyone has to help or it won’t work. And, what happened? Well, Jesus healed the man and everyone was happy, especially the four guys who were tired and dirty just getting the man to Jesus. I mean, it had been worth their trouble, hadn’t it? They did the right thing and Jesus did the rest.” Sister Mary Margret’s countenance had changed totally, a huge smile gracing her lovely face. How the air in the room had sweetened. Then fear gripped me, again, as Jimmy stood to speak, unrecognized by Sister Mary Margaret. At least, he waited for her nod to begin.
“The thing is Sister Mary Margaret. It’s not just as easy as writing your name on the chart and telling everyone what you need Jesus to do for you. We do that but, sometimes, the kids had to wait and pray a lot more for the answer to come. Sometimes, God didn’t answer like we wanted Him to, but God is answering all the time. Sometimes, God expects us to listen to His answer and do our part. Do you know that God made the President give his boring speech on all the channels at just the same time the night before my math test? We asked God to help me pass the test, and Sojourner there, said I should plan to do my part, too…to study, if God did what I thought would be the only way I’d know He wanted me to study for my math test. Well, don’t ya know, He did it! The President stopped my cartoons, I studied, and I even got an A on my math test. It was my first ever high grade and it was an A? I ain’t lyin’ neither, Sister; it’s true.” Little Jimmy slumped a tad to the right, his thumbs hooked in empty belt loops, as was Jimmy’s normal pose.
“So, Jimmy, you think that God will always bring the President on television to stop your cartoons so you’ll know you should study?” Oops, now what would Jimmy answer? I prayed some more.
“Naw, it doesn’t work like that, Sister Mary Margaret. God just did that this time to let me know He cares about me and He knows everything about me. God knew stuff about me that I dint’ know myself. Like I didn’t know I could ever pass the Math test, even if I did study for it, so He showed me that I could do it. Most important, though, God showed me that He knew who I was and what was bothering me. A little kid like me, God cared about me. Sojourner says God even knows my name, but He never used it so I just figure He didn’t need to yet. Don’t you see, Sister, those papers there, well…they did a good job on them in the Pope’s office or wherever they wrote them, but us kids already know that stuff. We wanted to know about praying, and that’s what we learned. Well, it’s one of the things we learned, but it’s something you can see for yourself. Just read our chart and you’ll see.”
Sister Mary Margaret moved towards the chart, in that graceful maneuver she managed so well, her long, black skirt swooshing just a little as she glided to the back of the room. The kids stared at her as she read down the list of names and requests. When she stopped on one line where the answer date had not yet been filled in, a tiny little voice whispered to the nun. “Its okay, Sister, Jesus is still working on mine. We pray for my grandpa every week, and some of the kids even pray for him between catechism classes. He’s still in the hospital, but he was well enough to have me come visit him. I drew him a picture.” Sister did not turn around but nodded her head that she’d heard.
The rest of the class time was a light-hearted sharing from the kids to Sister Mary Margaret. I was so proud of the kids; I thought my buttons would surely pop right off my blouse…well, we all wore tee shirts in those days, but if I’d had buttons...I felt wonderful! Whatever happened now, I knew the kids got it and that’s what mattered most.
Sister Mary Margaret announced that the next Tuesday the children should go to the auditorium for practice for the Christmas program, just a couple of weeks away. The kids bolted from the room at Liz’s final “Amen” in the closing prayer. Great, things were normal again.
We gathered up our things and prepared to leave when we noticed Sister Mary Margaret had not left the room. She seemed to have some trouble speaking. Then we understood why. “Ladies, you’ve done something here that has never been done before. I expect that the children shall not ever forget what you’ve shown them about prayer.” I so wanted to speak but it was obvious that she wasn’t finished. “But, sadly, I can see that your pupils will never do their worksheets in class with you leading them. It’s too late for that now. I have those in authority over me, you know. The parents are not happy and I have been instructed to relieve you of your class. When the new term begins in January, your class will have another teacher. Thank you for your work with this class. Your work here is finished. Goodbye and May God bless you two ladies.”
Sister Mary Margaret left as Liz and I stood in stunned paralysis. We’d just been fired. That must be some kind of first, mustn’t it? Even though they desperately needed teachers for the catechism class, we were being fired. Fired from teaching Hot Dogs! My only hope was that Sister Mary Margaret would take our class herself. She knew what the kids had learned and would be most able to understand when they wanted to continue to pray, even if they did have to do the worksheets in class now.
This was a most difficult experience…both in the beginning when we were learning how to let God teach us to teach the kids and not try to do it in our own strength (ignorance!); and now, at the end when we were fired. However, the between times were marvelous as one-by-one the children opened up to the love of God. They learned He cared about them, personally, delighting in all answers to their prayers… even a No.
We later realized that we had done just what God had intended us to do…nothing more and nothing less. How often do we have our own ideas of what God wants us to do, only to be disappointed when we don’t have enough time to finish what we wanted to do? This experience made me take a second look at such things. If I believe that God is sovereign in my life…and I, most certainly, do…then the project stops when God says, not when I say I am finished. God had His plan, as I said in the very beginning, and when it was completed, it was finished, period. An important lesson, indeed. I no longer try to kick the closing door in to finish my plan! No point trying to keep things going, without God, right? He doesn’t make mistakes, and HIS plan is always perfect!
****Have a terrific weekend!