I was a new assistant principal at a middle school. My role in this building was clear: I was in charge of all student discipline.
My days were quite busy, starting before the first bell and often continuing after the end of the school day. I would meet with one student after another, usually referred by a teacher demanding that I dole out some type of discipline to the offending student.
One morning I found a note in my mailbox from Betty, a sixth-grade teacher. She was having a challenging week and asked if I’d pray with her over her lunch period.
I had been open about my faith, so Betty felt she could ask me for prayer. And, I knew the limits of the law. I knew even assistant principals could take a lunch period (even though I usually did not), and I knew that on my lunch hour, my unassigned time, I could pray with a fellow staff member.
At 12:30 p.m., Betty showed up at my office, and we met for a peaceful, uninterrupted 30 minutes. No one knocked at my office door, and no one called on the phone during our time together . . . unheard of in my new role.
After the buses rolled out that afternoon, I got a call from the principal to come to his office.
The principal looked me in the eyes and asked, “Did you meet with Betty today during the school day and pray with her?”
Unbeknownst to me, he had gone through my mailbox and read the note she had sent me.
He pointed his authoritarian finger at me and yelled, “Don’t you ever pray in that office with a staff member again!”
The office grew silent, and I pondered my response.
I knew he was wrong and could not forbid me to pray with a peer.
As the Lord would have it, I had planned to teach a lesson on submitting to authority at a youth retreat that upcoming weekend, so the concept was front and center in my mind. I was going to cast the vision for young people to submit to their parents even if they were unfair or unreasonable at times . . . like my principal. I was planning to share the concept that they should extend the same level of grace toward their parents that the Lord offers to us. We are far from perfect, but receive citizenship in the Kingdom through His grace, and, in turn, we should give no less to others . . . including principals.
I held back my frustration and tried my best to focus on my teaching topic for the weekend.
I told him I had not sought out the prayer time, nor did I plan to do so in the future. I also felt it was important to share with him that this seemed like a moment set apart by God. (Thirty minutes of uninterrupted time never happens.) I told my principal that, since he was my authority, I would honor his request not to pray at school. However, I asked him if another prayer opportunity orchestrated by God occurred, would he, as my authority, accept accountability to God for preventing me from obeying God’s directive to pray.
He was quiet for a moment, and it looked as if the blood had rushed out of his face.
Then his finger rose again as he said, “If you pray again, be sure to lock the door so people do not think we are running a cult here!”
I promised to do so, realizing he had just given me his blessing to pray in secret.
One of the Scriptures that has had great influence in my life is Ephesians 4:29.“Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear”(NASB).I have a tendency to respond emotionally when under pressure. But, I have found if I run my response through Ephesians 4:29 before verbalizing my thoughts, I speak much less. And as a result, I believe I reflect the Lord’s grace through my responses.
Six months later, this same principal stopped by my office without calling, knocked on the door, came in, shut the door, and locked it.
He tearfully asked, “The next time you . . . ya know . . . talk with God, could you please mention my wife? She was just diagnosed with breast cancer.”
Had I demanded my rights six months ago—which had been a justifiable option—my principal never would have brought me a prayer request. Instead, I chose to show my principal grace, even though he didn’t deserve it.
Knowing our rights is a good thing. But, being sensitive to the Holy Spirit on how to respond when our rights are violated is a priority.
Showing our peers and authority figures grace does not come naturally. But, since the Holy Spirit within us is the Spirit of grace, we can listen to the Spirit’s guidance rather than react out of our emotions, even when under pressure.
Prior to serving for 14 years as Executive Director of CEAI, Finn had a 32-year career in public education. His roles included teacher, school counselor, assistant principal, principal, and superintendent. He is currently an Educational Consultant for CEAI.
Like what you’re reading? Then don’t miss an issue. Subscribe to be notified when the next issue is published.