Several years ago, I got a phone call from a great friend of mine. We became best friends in college and have kept in touch pretty regularly, even though he lives with his wife in New Jersey and I am in Boston. Well this night he was filling me in on what had happened to him in his new career.
He had started teaching math to eighth-graders in a difficult public school system. The students were all from an inner-city background in which many families are unstable or broken, the neighborhoods are dangerous, and there is a lack of true role models.
On top of this, there is a state-mandated exam that students must take, and so there is top-down pressure – on both the educational powers that be and the students – to succeed on it. The response of the school system is to develop very systematized and inflexible curricula.
Now, when you put these two truths together – abandoned youth with an impersonal system – you get a lot of disinterested and rebellious students. So, my friend, being a long-time basketball coach, immediately recognized a problem:
“Jerome, they’re at the sixth-grade level. We’re starting way ahead of where they are,” he had told me. So, he threw out the systemized curriculum and began teaching them differently. He met them where they were, and they worked on fundamentals.
He kept them entertained with some stories from his personal life. But even more importantly, he told them about life, about the class being a team, and how important each person was. And he didn’t put up with any nonsense – he confronted the discipline problems squarely from day one.
He gave them the truth. He treated them like his own.
Suddenly, the word about him was getting around the school. One of his students, who was most feared by all the school faculty, said to him, “Mr. Kelly, we like coming to your class. We actually learn something here. You’re the only teacher that cares about us.” After the first day, he never had a problem with discipline in Mr. Kelly’s class.
The kids worked, they learned, they grew – together.
But someone was watching.
See, the other faculty also caught wind. His supervisor didn’t like his “style”. She was jealous.
You know what, she made up some vague lies about what he was doing with the class, colored some evaluations, and recommended he be fired. She had him brought before the principal at the end of the year. And with her false evidence, convinced the principal that he was not appropriate for the school.
He did little to defend himself. And there was no revenge in him, no vicious words of exasperation. He left with his head high.
When he got done telling me this story, I said to him, “Wow, Tim, do you know how blessed you are? You just lived the life of Jesus Christ. How privileged are you!”
It was quiet for a little bit on the other end. Then he said, “Jerome, it’s really lonely.”
I told him, “Tim, He is with you. He is the only One who is with you. It’s you and Him, that’s all.”
Saints Peter and Paul both fed God’s people with the Word of God. They loved them as their own. And they both suffered and died with no friend with them – except Him.
And so, they were happy – just to be with Him.
If you are going to live the truth, if you are going to be authentic in life, if you are going to boldly do the right things in life, don’t expect that you’ll be surrounded with friends when the going gets tough. There is only One Who will be with you. Do you like to be with Him?
“If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before you. If you had been of the world, the world would love its own: but because you are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember my word that I said to you: The servant is not greater than his master. If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you: if they have kept my word, they will keep yours also.” (Jn 15:18-20)
He is the only One who gives us the Truth. He loves us as His own. He is the only One Who is with us always.