We were sitting at dinner when out of the blue Gracie looked me and began to recite these words…
“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden! Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to the whollllllle house!!! In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 5:14-16)
I was speechless. This came on the heels of weeks spent struggling with where the Lord has me, and meditating on what it means to be “salt and light.”
As many of you know, I just returned to teaching public high school full-time. I’ve spent the last five years enjoying teaching part-time, taking care of our family and having a lot of time to devote to what I love: women’s ministry and discipleship. Last spring when it was clear I’d have to return full-time in the fall I was stoic and unsettled. In all honesty- this was not what “I” wanted. But in a series of gentle confirmations The Lord has made clear that I am exactly where He wants….
When I began my teaching career twenty years ago the Lord placed on my heart that my number one objective was for each student to know they were loved— loved regardless of their performance, their behavior or their peer status. There are years where I have been better with this than others. But each year that has been my primary mission. In unorthodox fashion, I have always told my students that I love them. I will hug students who need it. As they leave my room each day I say: “Good-Bye, guys! Don’t forget: Mrs. Gill loves you!” I write: “Don’t forget, Mrs. Gill loves you!” on every quiz and notebook and often write it on the board with their homework reminders. On every major test I write: “Good luck! Mrs. Gill loves you!” and I put one bonus question that says: “Mrs. Gill loves me: a) True b) False.”
Last spring as I struggled with the idea of going back to teaching full-time, the Lord placed on my heart the notion to ask my students: “Why does Mrs. Gill tell you that she loves you?” Some of their answers were typical teenage silly: “Mrs. Gill loves us because we are so cool.” But many of the responses I got blew me away.
A few people said: “Mrs. Gill tells us she loves us because she knows everyone needs to hear they are loved.”
Some of them said: “Mrs. Gill tells us she loves us because she wants us to hear at least once in our day that SOMEONE loves us.”
One person said: “Mrs. Gill tells me she loves me to make up for my parents’ lack of love.”
Many of them wrote: “Mrs. Gill tells us she loves us because she really does love us!”
As surveyed my 90 students’ thoughts, the Lord gently asked me to look at the new expanded territory He was giving me and stop mourning over the territory I thought He was taking away.
I wish I could say that was the end of my rebellion and I resolutely charged forward into my mission field. Not- so- much…
The first week of returning full-time was—- HARD. I was overwhelmed by the work load, overwhelmed by the new pace of life, and overwhelmed by my own frustrations. I can say without contradiction from my husband or daughter that the first week back I was not a very nice wife or mom. And yet AGAIN the Lord came in with a gentle confirmation…
During the second week of school I moved into my “new” classroom. I started with cleaning a tall bookshelf from top to bottom scrubbing away years of dust. At the bottom I found an old book hiding in the corner. I dusted it off revealing these words: “Holy Bible.” I stood in shock, then carefully opened it where this message was inscribed: “Presented by Senior of Class 1955.” I could hardly believe my eyes. I dismissed the thought that the Lord was trying to tell me something and my cynicism kicked in as I thought: “Well, you’d never see this today- look how far we have fallen.” And then the Lord got hold of my heart and He very clearly said:
“I did not give you this gift for you to pass judgment on this place. I gave you this so that you would know that I have not abandoned this place. I have strategically placed you here along with other Christians. You’re here to be salt and light.”
And then the words of Jill Briscoe echoed in my mind: “Your mission field is right between your own two feet.”
Utterly broken by His gentle voice I began to spend time reflecting on what it means to be “salt and light.”
What does it mean to be “light?”
Light represents truth and hope. Light allows us to see. It’s hard to navigate in the dark. Light allows us to find our way. Are you having a Christ-light impact? Are people able to “see” better because you are shining His light? Are they thus able to navigate with truth & hope out of darkness? As a Christian in whatever capacity we work or serve, do people say: “We just wouldn’t be able to see and navigate these issues without the light of these Christians.”?
Just prior to Jesus proclaiming to us that we are the “light of the world” He says:
“You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.”
While salt certainly adds flavor, we have to remember that in Biblical times salt was mainly used as a preservative. It was rubbed into meat to keep it from rotting and falling apart. As Christians are we rubbing our lives and the love of Jesus into the people and communities around us? Do people say: “Without the love and care of these Christians rubbing lives with ours, we would literally rot and fall apart.”?
I am asking these questions of me. I am asking them of you. I’m asking them of our church. I am asking them of ”The Church.” I am amazed that from the mouth of my six year old springs the word of God resolutely proclaiming: “You are the light of the world…..” I am hearing the rising crescendo of the Lord’s voice saying “Now is the time… I have placed you here for such a time as this…”
A true turning point came right around the time of Gracie’s reciting Matthew 5 at dinner. It was in an email from our Yearbook teacher (and a sister-in-Christ.) The yearbook sent out a request to the student body asking them to express their time at our school in ‘Six word stories.’ The student-editors chose several of those submissions to use on this year’s cover. My colleague wrote: “Your name came up in a six word story. I would like your permission to use it.” Blurred among tears I read:
The six word story is: “Don’t forget, Mrs. Gill loves you.”
I close with these thoughts for you to ponder:
Your mission field is right between your own two feet.
You are the salt of the earth… You are the light of the world…
Why? Because, Jesus is the ultimate preservative. He is the ultimate light… and He is in YOU.