Last week, right in the middle of teaching a geometry lesson, I noticed that J., one of my little guys, had huge tears welling up in his eyes. 4th grade tears tend to occur right after a recess conflict or injury, not in the middle of math (I think they save math tears for homework time or junior high), so I quickly got the other kids working on something and talked to him outside for a minute. J. is very quiet and reserved, so he’s a bit of an onion- getting to know him this year has involved peeling back a whole lot of layers. I was very curious to hear what had made this amount of emotion actually surface for him.
In between sobs, J. said he wanted to tell me that his dog had died the night before. Her name was Roxy and she’d been in their family since before J. was born. Unfortunately, they had to put her to sleep because she had a tumor. And something just brought her to J.’s mind in the middle of class. And he was sad.
As we came back inside, I prayed and asked the Lord to comfort J.’s little heart and to give me wisdom for how to care for him well. J. gave me permission to tell the class about his dog, so I did so later on when he was out of the room. My other students responded with looks and remarks of sadness and understanding, and we had a little discussion of how to show J. that we care about him (i.e. yes, let’s make cards and draw pictures for J./no, let’s not all tell him stories of all of our own pets that have died). As the week went on, it was a beautiful thing to watch my kids learn and practice the art of empathy.
My own response to the situation was markedly different than it would have been a few years ago. I’m really thankful for the way God is softening my heart with a Gospel truth- life is full of pain and loss and if we just brush it aside, we miss the beautiful way God is redeeming it all through the work of Christ.
I’m not saying that I was completely cold-hearted or unfeeling in the past, but I was much more uncomfortable with sadness. Giving the expected ‘Oh, that’s too bad’ response and then seeking distraction was my typical mode of operation. But over the last year, Jesus has been teaching me a lot about acknowledging losses (both big and small- you can decide where losing a pet falls on that spectrum for you), giving them to him in prayer, and then waiting to see how the Spirit moves us to grieve and rejoice in the midst of it all- abundant life indeed.
That connection between grieving and rejoicing was made clear again yesterday during Room 25’s Monday ritual of “Weekend News”. When we got around to J.’s group, he raised his hand to share, which he rarely does. And when he told us that his family got a new dog this weekend- a pit bull named Rudy- the whole class responded with instantaneous applause and smiles. Lovely.