“Every teacher who has gone through that school has come out feeling like a failure.” Jan’s pronouncement was shocking, yet somehow not surprising.
In her position with an Asian missions organization, Jan has visited the school where I taught in East Asia many times. This afternoon Jan was telling me about a young piano teacher, Hannah, who taught there after I left. Throughout the long winter months, when snow piled up outside and gusts blew against the windowpanes, Hannah’s classroom was extremely cold. The building’s ancient heating system was barely functional, and she had no space heaters. A hot water bottle was her only remedy for keeping her fingers warm enough to play the keys.
Hannah asked her team leaders several times to do something about the freezing classrooms. They were sympathetic, but nothing changed. Day after day, week after week, month after month, she had to teach piano lessons in the cold.
Finally Hannah couldn’t take it anymore. The heating issue was just one of several areas in which she felt her leaders didn’t care for her the way they should. She went back to her home country mentally exhausted, physically ill, and burdened with the feeling that she had let everyone down.
“I’m a failure!” Hannah sighed to Jan afterwards. “I wasn’t strong enough. I’ve disappointed my leaders, my church, and my organization.”
I was amazed to hear how closely Hannah’s conclusions mirrored my own thoughts when I left the school three years ago. My leaders’ lack of care for me in these “small issues” like heating in the building had left me feeling that I wasn’t valued. I blamed myself for not being “tough enough” to stick it out, and was plagued by regrets and self-condemnation.
“I’m so sorry you had such a difficult time at the school,” Jan said gently, after she finished telling Hannah’s story. “But I want you to know that your leaders’ response was not representative of the whole organization. On behalf of the team, I want to personally apologize to you. You were NOT a failure. We are proud of you, and so thankful for your time of service in Asia.”
“You were not a failure.” Those words kept turning over and over in my mind. Like warm, healing waters to my spirit, they settled into the cracks deep below the surface. Thankfully, I had forgiven my leaders long ago. I had already settled the issue with God, knowing that He did not think I was a failure. Jan’s affirmation was simply confirmation of what the Lord had already been telling me. My value does not lie in what I do or don’t do, but in who HE says I am!
“You yourselves know, dear brothers and sisters, that our visit to you was not a failure. …Our purpose is to please God, not people. He alone examines the motives of our hearts.” I Thess. 2:1,4b (NLT)