Let me take a moment to share one of the most embarrassing moments of my entire life. I have changed some of the names in the story to protect the innocent. I have kept my name in the story, even though I would love to change it.
The year was 2002, and I was settling in as a first-year teacher at a prominent Christian high school in Southern California. I was teaching high school seniors the subjects of apologetics, logic, and ethics. I was really enjoying my first year of teaching, even though it was very stressful and demanding! I was a reasonably young teacher at that time, and that was doing a bit of a number on my pride, I will admit it. I was twenty-two, and most of my students were seventeen and eighteen years old. I was feeling like a wise old sage and that I would be looked at as a spiritual giant even though I was at most five years older than my students. Seeing as our ages were close, I was trying to balance being a good teacher and making an impact as a relevant and cool teacher. I would often use humor with my students in an attempt to win them over all while trying to be a good teacher and earn their respect. I wanted to be seen as intelligent, funny, and articulate. I felt like I was well on my way to accomplishing this task in my very first year.
On one particular day, my students were exceptionally rowdy during my lecture. Telling the class to settle down got some of the class’s attention, but others didn’t see their lack of respect. One student (we will call him Ben) was acting out and being extremely distracting during the class. I realized that this student needed some specific attention, and I decided to single him out and make an example of him. “Ben!” I yelled, “knock it off!” Having already spoken to the whole class, he could see that I was on my last nerve. After being called out by name, he began to sulk and put his head on the desk in shame.
I balked a bit at his dramatic overreaction, so I decided to poke fun at his overreaction. “Oh, Ben, get over yourself.” I spouted. “You are acting like a toddler.” Ben, not persuaded by my attempt to pull him back and reengage with the class, continued to look detached. I went a bit further. “Ben,” I said, you are acting as if Charles Manson killed your family.” As I said those words, hoping to get a reaction from him and the class, I saw that I was indeed getting a response from everyone, but it wasn’t the reaction I was hoping for. Instead of the jeers or thunderous laughter, everyone stared at me silently, and Ben sunk his head even lower. At that point, several kids in the class began to look at me with horror in their eyes. One of the kids sitting in the front row shook his head and mouthed the word “no” to me. “What?” I said with confusion.
I didn’t get it. What was going on? Looking bewildered, one of the girls in the class had compassion on me and motioned for me to come closer to her. She pulled me down and whispered in my ear words that, to this day, make me gasp with regret. “Charles Manson actually killed Ben’s grandparents,” she whispered. Feeling like the whole class was in on some sort of sick prank; I began to scan the room, looking for affirmation of my feelings. They were all affirming what she had told me. Their faces said it all. I had just been part of the most significant foot-in-the-mouth moment in the history of foot-in-the-mouth moments. I gulped. There was no recovery from this one. I couldn’t joke, quip, or laugh my way out of this.
This gaff was a one in a trillion joke. What the whole school was aware of, I was just finding out as a new teacher at the school. It was the most humbling and humiliating moment of my entire life. Meetings with administrators and parents followed as I issued more apologies than I had in my whole life up to that point. I was more humiliated than when I asked the lady with the tumor in her abdomen, “When are you due?” More than the time I handed the wrong baseball card to my favorite baseball player, and he said, “Get the right card next time, kid.”, as he walked away.
It reminded me of the story from the Bible about another guy who was humiliated. In Luke 18:18-23, we read, A certain ruler asked him, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life? “Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone. You know the commandments: ‘You shall not commit adultery, you shall not murder, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, honor your father and mother.'” “All these I have kept since I was a boy,” he said. When Jesus heard this, he said to him, “You still lack one thing. Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” When he heard this, he became very sad, because he was very wealthy.
This rich young man was seeking to justify himself before his peers. No doubt, people were gathered around to hear this rich man proclaim that he was justified by Jesus. He said he had followed all of the commandments. He probably thought he was doing pretty good. This rich man wanted people to see Jesus say, “You are amazing!” Jesus didn’t. Instead, Jesus put his finger on the area that this man needed to work on. This man needed a teachable moment. In moments like these, we can either learn and grow or ignore and go. Sadly, for this wealthy young man, he decided on the latter, and we don’t know what happened to him.
One of the greatest qualities that a follower of Jesus can possess is being teachable. Proverbs has some of the most significant scriptures that highlight this truth.
Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge, but he who hates reproof is stupid. Proverbs 12:1
Poverty and disgrace come to him who ignores instruction, but whoever heeds reproof is honored. Proverbs 13:18
Give instruction to a wise man, and he will be still wiser; teach a righteous man, and he will increase in learning. Proverbs 9:9
There is so much wisdom that God wants to give us. I don’t care if I learn a spiritual truth from scripture, from a pastor that I look up to, or from one of my kids; we always need to have a teachable heart and a spirit ready to put it into practice.
There is a brother in my church who is an example of this type of teachable spirit. This brother has been pastoring for over 40 years and is over 80 years old. This man still has the fire and tenacity of someone half his age. One of the things that amazes me so much about him is that he comes to me nearly every week after a sermon I have given and tells me something he has learned or shares an encouraging word that the Lord had shown him through the message. Never am I more humbled than when a brother who has been a pastor longer than I have been alive comes to me and shares that in his journey with Christ, he is still learning and being taught by Christ. I want to be like him.
I have met some brilliant people in my life. The ones that I love the most aren’t the ones who have all the book smarts but rather the ones that are still learning and sharing what they are learning with others. I will inevitably have another boneheaded moment like I shared earlier, and my hope with every boneheaded moment is that I will do just like I did that day. Own my mistakes, learn from them, and grow. We all need a teachable heart when it comes to our walk with Jesus. After all, knowing a spiritual truth intellectually is worthless unless you are living out that spiritual truth practically.
Likewise, you who are younger, be subject to the elders. Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” 1 Peter 5:5
This post originally appeared at: Be Teachable — The Bonhoeffer Project