I started teaching 7th and 8th grade math at Brooklyn Jesuit Prep in mid-September. I had been eagerly awaiting the first day of school after months of quarantining and packing and moving. For over a year, I’d been conversing in prayer with Jesus about how excited I was to finally arrive.
Less than three weeks later, the city and state required our school (along with hundreds of others) to transfer to all-online learning. Cases were spiking in specific neighborhoods and the risk of transmission was too high.
As the kids filed out of school, I cheerfully promised them I’d see them on Zoom! Inside, I was crushed.
I had helped to COVID-proof the school with the other faculty members. I had hustled my way through the first weeks teaching a new subject. I had experimented with masks to be sure my voice could be heard over New York City traffic.
Suddenly, none of that mattered. I was thrust into something totally new. I no longer needed to wear a mask, but wrangle a group of thirteen-year-olds I could barely see through their tiny on-screen boxes. As soon as I finished my first online lesson, I complained to Jesus in prayer.
“Have you abandoned me?” I cried. “Couldn’t we have gotten through three weeks? A month? It was going so well!”
But I felt Him urging me on. During the first few days, the Holy Spirit buoyed me with creativity, imagining new ways of learning through the screen. Still, I felt spent.
I complained to my mom over the phone. “It’s tough,” I explained, “not everybody has a great internet connection or the right kind of computer. We need them to be in the building to ensure they’re really absorbing the material.”
“You should see it here,” she said, describing a $40,000-a-year private school down the street from my parents’ house. They had been running normally since early September. She reported seeing more hand sanitizer than a hospital and enough outdoor tents to house a circus.
As she explained how comfortably this school seemed to be managing COVID-19, what had started as disappointment grew into anger. I took this rage right to Jesus again in a litany of curses.
[This is a family website, so I’ll use Jesus’ own word, “woe,” in place of what I actually said.]
“Woe to the political leaders who failed to plan for school re-openings over the summer! They prioritized petty interpersonal squabbles over the well-being of children.”
“Woe to my neighbors who have defied orders to wear masks, hosted massive indoor gatherings, and put us all at risk! Your proud defiance condemns you! Have you no care for your neighbor?”
“Woe to you, Americans who have grown blind to the inequality around us. How is it fair for rich students to continue their education seamlessly while poorer students struggle? Have you forgotten that we belong to each other?”
It felt good to express my frustration so plainly to Jesus. He’d been walking with me since I’d started discerning this mission. He’s listened carefully along each step of the way. I trusted he would listen well to these frustrations. Sometimes that’s all I need from prayer, a moment to express feelings that fear or anger or politeness prevent me from expressing anywhere else.
In this case, I wanted a little bit more, too. I wanted either a master plan to re-open schools safely, or a miraculous reduction in COVID cases, or an Exodus-like curse upon the house of any number of politicians.
I didn’t get that.
After a few days of raging, Jesus finally responded in exactly the way I needed. In the midst of my morning prayer, I felt a hug. Jesus didn’t have any profound words to offer me about how we were going to single-handedly undo trenchant inequality across the United States and the world. Instead, He wrapped me in His arms. He knows that when I’m really angry or really scared or really tired, that’s the first thing I need. He calmed me down.
Plus, he focused the energy of my anger on resolving the issues I could control while continuing to beg His intercession about the rest.
And he wasn’t too mad at me about all the bad language. He’s heard it all before.
Photo by Christopher Ott on Unsplash