Sunday, March 16, 2014

Favorites and Prodigals

It was a unexpected question on a Friday afternoon, right before Spring Break no less. One of my students, peered at me from behind smudgey glasses and asked, " Am I your favorite, Mrs. Awe?" It caught me off guard and I can't say I handled it deftly. "I can't have favorites," I replied, hoping my warm smile conveyed the care I felt for her in her teenage angst about acceptance and belonging. "If I could, you'd be right up there." Groan, bad answer.  No matter. " I knew it," she said, "I'm your favorite." She turned and headed to the locker section, seemingly satisfied.

Truth is, that minute, she was hands down, my favorite.  She prepares for class, loves to read and always pays attention. But that isn't why she is my favorite. It was because she was there, right there with me and she wanted to know. I look out over my sea of students at any given time and I'd be hard pressed to tell you which one is NOT my favorite. The eye-roller, the sloucher, the one prone to outbursts and the one who doesn't crack a book unless I'm sitting on the top of his desk and even then he only pretends to read or the one who laughs at my every lame joke. For this year, they are mine, and they are all my favorites. It's true.

Part of my Lenten practice is to read  Space for God by Don Postema. One of the exercises was to read the story of the Prodigal Son and just experience the joy of being welcomed home. Not to analyze, the exercise instructed, just to feel. The elder son has always kind of annoyed me,  but reflecting on the story and the question I'd just fielded from my student caused me to consider the events from a new perspective.The elder son, like the prodigal,  like my inquiring student, like me, wants to know he belongs-that he's loved.  It's always about this really isn't it? All of us, regardless if we have always been "at home" or if we ran around squandering money and time, want at last to be at home and be assured we are loved and favored.

Teachers face a classroom of prodigals and elder sons every day and we find ourselves for the sake of classroom management, giving more attention to those who could cause our structure to go to hell in a hand basket if we don't rein them in. We make a big deal when the student who rarely knows the answer, does in fact nail the inciting force in that short story. We applaud the arrival of on time homework from our most disorganized student. The "responsible ones" may be left to wonder why their assignment isn't such a big deal.  I try to be generous of heart with all my students and to celebrate their efforts and accomplishments. I hope they can all know at some point that they are in fact, my favorite. Because they are.

I am, you know, God's favorite. You are too. When I first studied the story as an adult, I related to the Prodigal Son because I was lost, then found and welcomed home by my earthly father and by God. I lived a long time identifying with the Prodigal, accepting the grace and provisions with a grateful heart. A year or so ago, following my father's death, I studied the story again as it is written by Henri Nouwen in Return of the Prodigal.  That is one beautiful book. I expected it to be another warm experience confirming my prodigality.But no! What in fact awaited me in the pages was this message: Grow up there girl! Your gig as the Prodigal is up and it is time to love like the Father. Welcome the prodigals, welcome the elder sisters and brothers. Slaughter that fatted calf every day and give them all the goods you've got in the pantry.

It all makes more sense  now. The question, the story, and why I can never pick a favorite.

Welcome home,

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