He sat down in front of my desk, his cheeks already flushed. He had been told in the hall to come see me after school, and sure enough at 3:15 he had entered my room, shirttail already untucked halfway.
‘I hate detentions’ he said as I shooed the other students out of the room.
‘I told you I wasn’t giving you a detention, and I’m not. But in the past two days I’ve had five or six of your classmates come to me–‘
‘–Oh boy.’ he interrupted and looked down, seeming to brace himself for what would come next.
‘Come to me and tell me that they’ve seen you cheating lots of times. And I know that they’re right. And I’m not going to give you a detention. But this is what you need to know. You’re smart.’
‘No, I’m not.’ He shook his head, looking down.
‘Yes, you are. You don’t cheat because you don’t get it. It’s like what we talked about in class today. You cheat because you forget you have homework or because you’re lazy and you know that if you’d done it you would get an A.’
He nodded ever so briefly in acknowledgment, so I continued.
‘And you are smart. You are. Listen to me – you are a good point guard. I’ve seen you play. And it’s not just because you’re quick or can dribble. It’s because you can somehow see what’s happening on the court. Not everyone can do that. I know, I watch a lot of basketball. You have to be smart to see it all like you do.’
He still sat silently, his face now completely flushed in embarassment.
‘And don’t you try to excuse it away or not listen like we do when someone is telling us truth. Listen to me. You are smart. And you are better than cheating. You are better than that. God has big plans for you, and you don’t need to cheat.’
He twisted his lips to one side, his face showing his hurt. His eyes were glossy, and my heart immediately hurt for this boy who doesn’t see him own worth clearly. I continued with increased intensity.
‘You are incredible and great and smart.’ I punctuated each word, trying to communicate the weight behind them. ‘Don’t waste that on cheating. You are better than that. I expect you to do great things, and you won’t get there by cheating. In 10 years–how old are you?’
’12’ he answered quickly.
‘In 10 years I expect to get a call from you telling me that you’ve graduated college with honors and are going on to do great things.’
‘Yeah right.’ He scoffed at my suggestion.
‘You can do that. And if you don’t, I will hunt you down and punch you in the face.’
He smiled at that idea as I stood up and walked around my desk.
‘And I know that you are going to go and you’re going to be tempted to only remember the awkwardness of this conversation and forget all of the truth I just said.’ He laughed as we began walking to the door. ‘But you need to remember that you are smart, and you are better than cheating. Don’t forget it.’
I cry a lot when I think about these students. Today as this conversation was taking place, I knew I would cry if I didn’t hurry up and finish. I wish there were adequate words to explain it all. When I began affirming him, he looked at me with eyes that were so full of hurt I thought my heart would break right then and there. This student – this remarkable student – does not believe that he is valuable. He does not believe he’s smart. He does not believe he can accomplish anything.
I often remind my kids that they are sinners. A lot of them are moral, so we talk a lot about how sin is not just an action. But may I not forget to remind them also that they are valuable and loved – all of them. My ministry to them is not just teaching, it is interacting with them in such a way that they see the Father’s love. And God’s love is free, unfailing, extravagant, limitless, faithful, gentle, strong, and sacrificial. As Grudem would say, God’s love means that He “eternally gives of Himself”.
May I freely and fully give of myself for their good and His glory.