The Shadow of Delight
The other day, during Bible, we were reading Psalm 91, and discussing verse 1. It’s easy to understand some metaphors of God-- His protection over us, our resting under his wings. But I was struggling to explain what “abiding under the shadow of the Almighty” meant to 8 year olds. I asked my students, “What makes a shadow?” I described the feeling of standing next to a tall person when the sun shines on them, and you are within their shadow. But for some reason, it didn’t seem to resonate with them as much as the other descriptions in the Psalm. Why is it a comfort to abide inside a shadow? My students have been struggling with understanding this, as well as something else. I thought about these as I drove home that day, and had no idea that God would weave these two things together.
The students in my class love order, structure, consistency, and rightness. They are very much aware of, and regularly point out, the mistakes that I make (so fun for my pride!), and those of others. They all have a strong desire to uphold classroom order, to meet expectations, put simply: they want to be right. They hate making mistakes. They become flustered and upset and frustrated when they answer questions incorrectly, or get problems wrong on homework, or blunder a line -- even one word-- in poetry recitation. No matter how often I try to tell them that failure and mistakes are ok, my words fall void. Inevitable mistakes continue, and frustrations rise again. This repetitive struggle is so hard for me as their teacher to watch! My heart has grown so tender towards them, that when I watch them internally beat themselves up, it beats on my heart, too.
So I think of how to approach this all the time- on my drives home from school, on my drives to school, as I set up my classroom, as I cook dinner. Throughout the year, as I have wrestled and prayed and ached and tried to faithfully pursue this process of helping my students, God gifted me with two unmistakable moments through which He spoke. He tied everything together.
The first was a regular campus day morning. The teachers and board members were gathering for our daily morning prayer, and Kyle Strom simply prayed that each student would “learn to sit peacefully under authority.” Tears sprang into my eyes right at that moment as the weight of the reality hit: I am the authority they sit under. What an incredible, significant, huge and humbling position! I thought about this as we headed into morning assembly, and it echoed what we had talked about in our teacher training this summer: we as teachers image the Father before these kids. Through our example in front of them, by the power of the Holy Spirit, they will glean more of what God is truly like. When Kyle prayed this, it reminded me how sacred it is to be the authority in the room because I get to show them what the Father thinks about them!
The second moment happened after this prayer, I was listening to a podcast and I was struck again in the same place. The speaker described her journey towards understanding what God is like, and believing what he thinks of us. She described how powerfully transformative it is to live rooted in God’s delight. The moment that struck me most was when she described a dream in which God asked: “Is my smile enough?” That was it. Everything I have been thinking and saying and doing to try to help my students stop being frustrated with themselves started to come into focus! Zephaniah 3:17 says, “He will take great delight in you.” The Father delights in us, continually approves of us, and he SMILES over us. So if I am rooted in God’s delight of me, I can stand in authority over my students and show them my delight in them!
These two moments came full circle back to Psalm 91: The Father’s delight is the margin within which we live, and dwell, and abide. It is the place where we fail, where we make mistakes, where we forget the answers after raising our hands, but where we can never be loved less. If we root ourselves in God’s delight, we can never be moved from that safe shadow.
I ask again, what makes a shadow? What happens when you stand next to someone taller and greater than you? Does the sun beat down on them instead of you? If they stand there forever between you and the wrath of the sun. What happens to you? You can freely fail. You can safely abide. The shadow of the Almighty is the safest place in the world, where we stand rooted in his delight, forever under his smile.
By: Kate Orton, Third grade teacher at VCS