It’s the night before the first day of school and it is debatable who might be more nervous—my freshman students beginning their high school experience tomorrow or me, a 21-year veteran teacher.
I love starting a school year for lots of reasons—“Every day is an opportunity to embrace “newness”—new technology, new family and social dynamics, new attitudes, new behaviors, new teaching strategies, new curriculum. I am a teacher with experience, and yet I still have so much to learn. I dance between both realms.” (excerpt from “Why I Teach”)
It’s the “so much to learn” part that makes me anxious. Each school year, there is the nervousness that goes with meeting new students. But this school year, I move into a new classroom with brand-spanking new computers to teach a new Digital Design class. I will need to learn Adobe software programs throughout the semester, often just a day or two before I teach my students. I am also cooperating with a new student teacher as she begins a career in education.
“Embracing newness” feels a little scary right now and, truth be told, I’m afraid that I won’t be able to answer student questions, that there will be problems I cannot solve, that I won’t be knowledgeable enough, that I won’t look and feel like a good teacher.
In many ways, this fear is a good thing—if I didn’t have some healthy fear, perhaps I wouldn’t be conscientious about planning and preparing. A healthy fear motivates me to provide the best educational experience for my students. This kind of fear can be useful information in many situations to move us forward.
But, fear can also be an indicator that something is not right, either within us or in our environment. We can become immobilized by fear, overwhelmed by what could happen that is out of our control. Feeling incapable of escaping it, this kind of fear is a prison.
Recently, Fr. Mauritius Wilde, Prior of the Benedictine Abbey of Sant’ Anselmo in Rome, shared that he was struck by these lines when chanting the morning Office, “May angry words and foolish fears, Be exorcised by heartfelt tears.”
He writes, “Yes, fears, for a Christian, are always foolish. Why should we be afraid? Of whom should we be afraid? ‘What will separate us from the love of Christ? Will anguish, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or the sword?’ says St. Paul (Rom 8:35).
Of course, when we look with concerns on what is going on in the world: we might have some fears. I am not saying that there are no justified fears. Sometimes they function to warn us or to bring us the right energy level, for example, stage fright. Still, in the end, fears are foolish if we deeply trust in God.” Read Fr. Mauritius’ post “Foolish Fears.”
Sometimes I forget that trusting God really works—it may not predict or change an outcome, but my fears are calmed. Sometimes I think that my efforts, combined with worry, can somehow accomplish more than trusting in God can. I choose control over faith. I choose foolish fear—foolish because it is impossible to control everything anyway. I can plan, do my best, and, then, trust in God. I need not be a slave to fear.
The song reminds me:
I am no longer a slave to fear / I am a child of God / You drowned my fears in perfect love / You rescued me / And I will stand and sing/ I am a child of God.
God knows we fear. “The best way to control fear is to offer it to God… In Holy Scripture, it says 365 times, “Do not be afraid.” …Fear of fear is a vicious circle that ends in panic. How can I control my fear? I can’t. Let God control my fear.” (Fr. Mauritius Wilde, OSB, “The remedy for fear is love” podcast)
God knows we can become a slave to fear. The remedy is love. We cannot overcome fear with fear. “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear. (1 John 4:18)
So this night before school starts I surrender my fear and anxiety, trusting that this new school year will unfold as the 21 years before have—uniquely, organically, mysteriously, and not without problems. And all shall be well. (Julian of Norwich)