A huge lesson I learned from both the ACE Ambassador program and my first year of teaching at Little Flower School in Mobile is that the following prayer, written in honor of St. Oscar Romero, an archbishop and martyr of the Church, is frustratingly true:
It helps, now and then, to step back and take a long view. The Kingdom is not only beyond our efforts, it is even beyond our vision. We accomplish in our lifetime only a tiny fraction of the magnificent enterprise that is God's work.
Nothing we do is complete, which is a way of saying that the Kingdom always lies beyond us. No statement says all that could be said. No prayer fully expresses our faith. No confession brings perfection. No pastoral visit brings wholeness. No program accomplishes the Church's mission. No set of goals and objectives includes everything.
This is what we are about. We plant the seeds that one day will grow. We water seeds already planted, knowing that they hold future promise. We lay foundations that will need further development. We provide yeast that produces effects far beyond our capabilities.
We cannot do everything, and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that. This enables us to do something, and to do it very well. It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning, a step along the way, an opportunity for the Lord's grace to enter and do the rest.
We may never see the end results, but that is the difference between the master builder and the worker. We are workers, not master builders; ministers, not messiahs. We are prophets of a future that is not our own. Amen.
Until getting into the ambassador program and teaching, life had been a pretty simple formula for me: set a goal, work hard to reach it, accomplish the goal. I believed that to “take the long view” meant to work for a few weeks or a few months before reaching a goal. That is the long view for human time–definitely not for God’s time.
It has been difficult to learn how very slow God’s time can be through ACE. Putting in weeks of effort for an event that a single person attended or putting hours of planning and prep into a meaningful lesson that falls flat can be extremely frustrating. My work has, over and over again, not paid off in the way or in the time frame I wanted it to.
"Growing as a teacher has meant growing in patience–not just with challenging students, but with the slow way God works over the course of a semester, a year, and longer."
Despite the discouragement I may feel when my carefully made plans fall through, God has given me glimpses into the grander, greater Kingdom I am helping to build with my small actions today. I still receive messages and questions from individuals I spoke with as an Ambassador over a year after meeting them–even though I did not pick up on their interest at our initial meetings. I have students asking me or answering questions that show a deep understanding of a lesson I thought they were completely zoned out of.
A new sixth grader joined my school last year. On the first Friday of the school year, when I announced that we would be able to attend Mass together as a school, her hand shot up and she asked, “What’s Mass?” The five minutes we had before we needed to head over to the church were, obviously, not enough to fully explain the beauty of the Mass we were about to attend, but I gave the quickest of explanations before shuffling my students to the sanctuary. This student did not find the Mass particularly meaningful that day, nor did she really enjoy religion class–she saw God as a far-away power who refused to intervene in the great suffering of the world she saw around her. However, as we learned more about God, the saints, and especially Mary, I saw this student soften. We were working on a project connecting Mary’s life to the Church’s teaching on human dignity, and this student was working on it before class one day. As we talked about the lesson and what she was doing for the project, she asked me probably my favorite question I’ve been asked last year: “So Mary’s, like, a good role model for women?”
“She’s the best role model for women!” I exclaimed in response. This was the first of many examples I have of this student really wrestling with and seeking a deep understanding of the concepts we talk about in religion class.
I turn to this prayer often in moments of discouragement–so often. God’s time is so much longer and better than my own. Growing as a teacher has meant growing in patience–not just with challenging students, but with the slow way God works over the course of a semester, a year, and longer. I look forward with comfort, knowing that the hours I put into my work and my students will be given meaning in God’s time–likely in ways I will not know, but in ways that will be deeply meaningful for God’s plan for myself, my students, and the world.