Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God. Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls. But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. James 1:19-22 ESV
I couldn’t remove the cloak of weariness that was draped across my shoulders. The closer I got to home, the heavier it got. The weariness not only lay across my back, it pulled at my eyelids and splashed in my head. It had been a very long time since I was this tired. Yesterday our campus was filled with balloons, flowers, stuffed animals, and chocolate. Today it was different. Fear, anxiety, and sadness swirled around the halls and classrooms like trash twisting and twirling in the turmoil of a blowing wind. What a difference a few hours could make. Our students left school Wednesday with Valentine’s Day paraphernalia and plans on their minds and came back on Thursday morning wondering what the future would hold.
Even now as I try to write this, I struggle to stay focused.
You see I spent most of Thursday talking to teenagers about what we should do if an active shooter makes it up the stairwell, onto our hall, and even into our classroom. Do we hide? Do we run? Do we fight? Their responses ranged from James Bond movie heroics to truly terrified “I don’t want to die” testimonies.
I sat and listened. Sometimes directing the conversation down a more productive path, but most of the time just listening trying “hear” the hidden true emotions behind the words being said. When it was all said and done, I couldn’t give them a perfect answer for what to do if we were ever faced with the horror the students in Parkland, Florida faced, but I could give them the reassurance that we would do whatever it took to survive. The blue- eyed warrior princess in the back calmly gave practical defensive plans for securing the door. The gregarious -good looking soccer player volunteered to put on the Spartan armor in the back of the room and “take the guy out” to which his friend replied, “No you won’t. You will stand there and scream like a girl.” Laughter and fear mingled together as we worked together to sort out the tangled emotions we all felt and reassured each other we would be okay.
“Captain Gibbens, can I ask you a personal question?” a student asked as we began to transition to the tasks of school work. I motioned for him to come closer to me.
“Would you take one for us?”
“What do you mean?”
“A bullet. Would you take one for us?”
“Yes, I think I would.”
“Yes. I can’t be sure what I would do in that moment, but I think I would.”
And I meant it.
I’m not sure I would throw my body in front of a bullet for them, but I believe I would do what I could to see that they were safe. I would do my best to get them out of harm’s way.
Why did I write all this? I am not totally sure, but I know in my heart that the best thing I could do yesterday was to listen to my kids, to not be quick to give them answers, to not do all the talking, but to give them a chance to speak. My kids yesterday needed to talk and they needed someone to listen.
I wrote all this because James 1:19 says we need to be quick to hear and slow to speak. We need to listen to those around us. We need to listen in order to hear the emotions behind the words. Listening takes works. Listening takes time. Listen takes setting our agendas aside in order to focus on what the other person is saying. Listening is exhausting, but listening changes things. Listening sets the stage that allows our words to have meaning and relevance. Listening validates the feelings of those around us. Listening tells others that they are seen and that they are important.
Listening to my students yesterday was the best lesson I didn’t plan.
Hug your loved ones tight tonight.
Thanks for listening.
Between a husband, 2 sons, and teaching high school my sanity is found in running and Starbucks. I have a circle of running friends who inspire me to be authentic and real as I live a life of faith before them.