When Trying to be the Hero in Your Own Classroom Fails: Kristin Lavransdatter and Allowing God to Be Glorified in the Mess

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Kristin Lavransdatter, as I mentioned in an earlier post, is the saga of a middle class Norwegian woman’s life from childhood until the very end. (There are a few SPOILERS in here, so read on with caution!) Kristin grows up in a devout Catholic family, gets seduced by a handsome trickster named Erlend, and spends most of her adult years dealing with the consequences of their damaged, yet enduring, marriage. Through it all, she moves as if on a spiraling track, first toward God, then away from him. She lets her father down, betrays her betrothed (Erlend’s competition), engages in superstitious practices to save her nephew’s life, stands by her husband through a terrible imprisonment due to a political snafu, and watches some of her children die. Eventually, her husband dies, and she is left alone with her sons, who eventually take over responsibility for the management of the estate. She spends her final months of life as a boarder in a convent; lastly, a plague comes and kills hundreds around her, and she falls prey to it herself. 

What a mess, right? But in some of her final moments on earth, she realizes that God’s relentless love for her has overcome even her own stubbornness and self-centeredness:

“It seemed to her a mystery that she could not comprehend, but she was certain that God had held her firmly in a pact which had been made for her, without her knowing it, from a love that had been poured over her–and in spite of her willfulness, in spite of her melancholy, earthbound heart, some of that love had stayed inside her, had worked on her like sun on the earth, had driven forth a crop that neither the fiercest fire of passion nor its stormiest anger could completely destroy”(Undset 1122). Kristin sinned a great deal, but she also suffered through the consequences of her sin, and she ended her life by performing an act of mercy– courageously burying a poor old woman, another plague victim, whose corpse had been abandoned. She became increasingly aware, in her later years, that her desire for God was nothing compared to His all-consuming desire for her. While she sought Him haphazardly, He sought her wholeheartedly, over and over again.

I think what I loved most about Kristin’s story was that it was truthful, often so truthful it was ugly. People in Kristin’s time didn’t have ibuprofen, cosmetic surgery, or diet soda. They couldn’t put filters on their pictures to make them look prettier. They sometimes died from wounds that we could easily treat today. And they did very hurtful things to each other, too, and these hurtful things turned into grudges and lies and insecurities. In the end, they weren’t the heroes of their own stories. If there was a hero in Kristin’s story, it was the Lord, not her.

As we’re preparing to start this school year, which will certainly be a year unlike any other, let’s keep our eyes fixed on the Lord. When everything else changes, He remains the same. When we try to measure our successes by earthly standards, He nudges us to seek sanctity for ourselves and our students, even though it will be messy. When we want to be the heroes of our own classrooms, He reminds us that He wants to be the hero; we have only to let Him. 

Undset, Sigrid. Kristin Lavransdatter. Translated by Tiina Nunnally, Penguin Classics, 2005.

15 Songs to Help You Stay Strong as a Teacher during Coronavirus

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Whatever your district, bishop, or principal has decided about how you’re going back to school (or not back to school) this fall, it’s going to be different. Remember back when we thought this was just a temporary fix and everything would smooth over during June, July and August? Ahhh, those blissful days of our ignorance!

Worship music can help you to stay strong when you’d rather just curl up on your couch and binge-eat sugary cereal (introverts, unite) or run outside and talk to everyone in sight because you miss your students so much (extraverts, unite.) These songs remind me of why I do what I do…because after all, we love Jesus, and we want everyone to know Him, especially our students and our families, even when circumstances get tough.

15. Need to refocus on your mission?

Check out Ryan Stevenson’s The Gospel–”The Gospel makes a way,” he sings, and it does, even when we can’t feel it or see what’s coming next.

14. Is this one of those days when you want chocolate, wine, and hard liquor at the same time, but you already did that last night, so you’re not sure what’s next?

(AKA Parent Teacher Conferences Night 2.)

You do have to be willing to be pepped up, but if so, the cheery and retro feel of Like You Love Me by Tauren Wells just might do the trick!

13. Anxious about how to cover up your insecurities as a teacher in all this uncertainty?

Jason Gray’s “Remind Me Who I Am” is so reassuring. It will gently lead you right into prayer.

12. Want to feel cool? (I mean, you already are, but adding little rap won’t hurt your ratings.)

A true classic, Toby Mac’s Speak Life will remind you of the radical, life-giving power of each of your words.

11. Plagued by fears about last year or next month? Trying to be more mindful (in the right kind of Catholic way)? 

The simple message of Jeremy Camp’s Keep Me in the Moment will resonate with your desire to take all of this one moment at a time.

10. Morning person? Because you will hate this if you’re not:

Good Morning by Mandisa is the kind of song you can blast in your classroom to get you pumped for the day. You know who you are.

9. NOT a morning person? Need a boost to get out of bed for Day 1 of Inservices?

Not only is the piano accompaniment on Mat Kearney’s Air I Breathe gorgeously invigorating, but the poetic lyrics will help you reclaim the Lord in all His goodness and power.

8. Discouraged by how long it takes to make literally ONE bulletin board in August?

The lyric video of The Afters, Broken Hallelujah, is seriously stunning. 

7. Getting too full of yourself? Or down on yourself?

“Nobody but Jesus” by Casting Crowns will pick you right back up again. It’s all about setting ourselves aside and letting Jesus take the stage, which is perfect as we prepare to take the stage in our classroom or on our Zoom screen this fall. Plus the girl riding the motorized scooter is just cool.

6. Worried about your school, city, or country? 

You’ve probably heard You’re the God of This City by Chris Tomlin before, in which case you know it’s perfect for such a time as this. If not, you’re in for a treat.

5. Want to feel empowered by the Holy Spirit and Sara Bareilles at the same time?

Because who wouldn’t, honestly. Her music video for Brave is amazing. My hero is the old guy in the red shirt and white pants…someday I hope to be as much of a rockstar as he is.

4. Piles of emails, forms, masks, and dirty tupperwares littering your desk already?

Give it all to Jesus with David Dunn, whose Have Everything reminds me of the zeal of my early teen years AND makes me want to get up and dance. (By myself, that is, because I am a bad dancer and now have adjustable blinds on my door for situations like this.)

3. Wish someone noticed all your hard work? It’s easier during the pandemic to feel overlooked.

 Over and Over by Riley Clemmons is a great find. The Lord chooses us over and over again, and this is our hope. Riley’s voice is so rich! 

2. Trying to be grateful but not doing that well at it?

Micah Tyler always makes me smile, and his Amen is no exception. He will draw you into praise and celebration, even when you’re surrounded by sanitizer (or “hamitizer,” as my three-year-old niece calls it, which evokes images of hamsters rubbing their paws together in a very antibacterial fashion.)

1. Just need to have a good cry?

I can’t count the number of times that I’ve played I Know by Big Daddy Weave while worrying about a student or parent issue. SOAK THIS IN. It is an incredible call to faith and opportunity to give God everyone who is on your heart and everything that breaks your heart.