I’ll never forget Mark’s first day of fifth grade. It was a unique situation because the building was completely new to him, but the teacher wasn’t. She had previously taught Mark second and third grade at another building but had transferred to a new position at the same school Mark had been moved to.
I did everything I could to make the transition as easy as possible for Mark. I reminded him repeatedly that, yes, the building would be new and so would all the other students. But I reassured Mark by reminding him that he would have the same teacher whom he already knew and loved. I even made two separate trips to the new building during the summer, so that Mark could become more comfortable with what would be his new school.
He was proud to be starting fifth grade and excited to see his favorite teacher once again. So, I was honestly taken aback by his reaction when the first day came. In fact, I think his feelings and actions took both myself and Mark by surprise.
Together, we entered the cafeteria where all the students had been asked to gather on the first day. But that’s when I felt Mark’s clasp on my hand turn from relaxed into a death grip. And when I glanced down to see what had happened, I noticed he wasn’t breathing. He must have started to hold his breath prior to digging his fingernails into my right hand because I noticed his cheeks were beginning to turn the same shade of purple as his backpack. Oy.
It was packed and as loud as you can imagine one room filled with over five hundred excited and anxious children would be. But I did my best to find a bit of privacy. The very last thing Mark needed was to add embarrassment to everything else that was already overwhelming him.
“Mark,” I said as calmly but as loudly as I could so that he would be able to hear me. “You’ve got to breath, Sweetie. Breath.”
When that didn’t work, I relied on an old standby; I started blowing puffs of air into his face. Thankfully this worked, but after a few hard blinks, Mark suddenly took a loud gasp of air and proceeded to let out a blood curdling scream.
“Mark, calm down,” I said as I rubbed his arms, trying to relax his stiff, tight muscles, “What’s wrong? Tell Momma.”
“I…Uh…I…Uh…Uh…” he uttered repeatedly between sobs. I could tell he was close to passing out and could do little more than stutter at this point.
The not-so-small peanut gallery of other kids and several adults that was now surrounding us didn’t escape me, either. Neither did it help. So, I grabbed Mark’s hand firmly and guided him through the crowd back to the school office.
It took some doing. The office staff did not want to call his teacher down to the office. They wanted to protect her last few minutes of free time before the start of the school day. But I knew that she knew Mark and loved him as much as I did. I also knew that if Mark could just see her, he could remember that in the middle of all this newness, all this chaos, all this emotional suffering and distress, he could know that everything was going to be okay.
Fortunately, I was convincing enough. Either that or Mark’s inconsolable tears and incomprehensible stuttering did the trick. Who knows? Maybe both helped. But it took little more than a few minutes from the time the teacher was called to the moment she appeared in front of him, kneeling down to make eye contact with Mark on his level.
“Mark,” she said so softly I could barely hear her myself. “It’s my first day, too. Can we go into the cafeteria together?” And with that, there was a transfer of security. Mark’s now sticky-with-sweat and shaking hand transferred from mine to that of his teacher. In an instant, my own blood pressure likely dropped a good 30 points!
The situation didn’t change at all. Mark was still terrified and suffering terribly. But now he knew he wasn’t going to face the day alone. He knew his place: In the middle of this new and scary situation, yes. But also in the caring and proven hands of a teacher whom he loved, knew and trusted.
The same is true for us.
We can suffer well if we also know our place. Like Mark, knowingly stepping into a most uncomfortable situation, but comforted by knowing that he isn’t alone. Our place is with God. He is our rock (Psalm 18:2), our shield (Proverbs 30:5) and He “knows those who take refuge in him” (Nahum 1:7).
What a profound privilege.
What a peaceful place to be.
Like this post? It’s taken from Going for Broke: How to Suffer Well. (Click here to find it on Amazon.)