We met with 21 families virtually this week to share how our Kindergarten class will operate this year in a pandemic. My partner and I did each interview while wearing a mask. We asked to see each child’s mask, compared the patterns and colours, and invited them to play a game.
“See if you can guess how we’re feeling by only looking at our eyes.”
Mrs. Holly covers her face and reveals big round eyes and the child guesses. “Surprised?” “Excited?” Yes! This is our new reality when you can’t see our mouths.
Mrs. Val’s turn. I cover my face and when I pull my hands away, my forehead is drawn with lines, my eyebrows pulled down. “Mad?” “Grumpy?” Yes! They are good at this game.
Some of them agree to also take a turn, with the majority of them reflecting “Happy” with their squinting eyes. They are excited to see us, to be coming back to school.
I explain that when school begins, we won’t be able to wear our fun, colourful masks – we have to wear plain, medical masks AND… “You’re not going to believe it… Wait for it…”
Holly and I both pull our heavy visors over our heads and exclaim, “Did you know that you were coming to SPACE SCHOOL this year?! Say hello to Astronaut Holly and Astronaut Val!” Some of them look a little uncertain, but smile or laugh as we carry on with the image.
In the five seconds we wore that visor, our masked faces and upbeat words hid our growing apprehension. The visor was heavy. Our voices echoed back into our own ears. The thick plastic fogged up with our filtered breath. We are going to have to wear these ALL DAY?
Between interviews, we put on the visors and walked around the room. The thick shield played with our depth perception and had the potential to cause vertigo. We are going to have to wear these ALL DAY?
We go home with a new layer of heaviness on our chests not even related to the last whispered confession of a mom who admitted that her son is not quite potty-trained for ‘Number One’ OR ‘Number Two’. Ugh.
While it was so wonderful to interact with our little students (15 of whom we taught last year), to see their smiling faces, and to build that relationship with their families, we carried stress home in our pockets.
Ann Voskamp in her book, One Thousand Gifts: A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are, says, “Stress isn’t only a joy stealer. The way we respond to it can be sin.”
Does that mean that my canker sores that I haven’t seen for over six months are sins? Does that mean that my colleague’s cracked tooth is sin? It seems even when our minds are telling us that we are not stressed, our bodies revolt and let us know how we really feel.
“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me.”John 14:1
Ann suggests that trust and prayer are the solutions to stress; the action we can take instead of worrying. And I do. I hand over my canker-sore-worry to God and ask Him to take it.
And then I notice the jaw clenching, another area of my body that likes to show stress. I ask my Father, my life Director, to take my jaw-stress too.
Then there’s the pounding headache that accompanies me home as I leave school, where the students haven’t even started attending yet. Should I worry now that I have a symptom of COVID too, or do I check off another symptom of stress after a day of mask/visor trepidation and the ‘one step forward and two steps back’ of preparing our room and our program to accept four and five-year-olds (some who won’t even be four until December)?
Father, please take my worries.
Do I not trust God? Is that why my body is breaking down? All of a sudden, I understand Paul’s admonition in 1 Thessalonians 5:17:
Never stop praying.(NLT)
I think it’s very human for us to forget that healthy habit until the worry starts to eat us alive. Then we look for a cure, rather than taking the preventative vitamins. Some people spend a fortune on supplements, vitamins, and herbal concoctions when we have the free dose of Trust readily available every day of the year. Our Director – that loving God – has to shake us up every now and then to remind us to take our Trust vitamin. Never stop praying.
If I look up that verse, it’s sandwiched between two other directives, equally forgettable in a life with no worry: always be joyful (v. 16) and be thankful in all circumstances (v. 18). Ironically, these two supplements are more easily swallowed when things are going well, when our bodies are feeling healthy and stress-free. They’re more difficult to take when I face uncertainty and fear as I plan to receive 22 beautiful, excited children into my classroom for six hours a day; sharing the same rectangular space, touching the same surfaces, and breathing the same air. “Is your child bringing a mask to school?” The responses were understandably discomforting. Masks aren’t mandatory for children in Kindergarten.
Be joyful and thankful. Where do I find the joy? The courage to be thankful?
Joy is a Fruit of the Spirit. We all have the capacity to experience it; to reflect. And it’s tied to thanksgiving. When I take my mind off the uncertainties and focus on the things I am grateful for, joy is hidden there.
Thank you for excited children. Thank you for supportive, trusting parents. Thank you for a well-paying job when many others have lost theirs because of the pandemic. Thank you for fresh air as I rip off my mask and gulp it in. Thank you for a car to drive home in. Thank you for a fridge full of food and the things I need to turn it into a good meal. Thank you for a loving husband to share it with. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.
Where has the heaviness gone? Oh, it’s there – hovering close by – waiting for me to finish my thanksgiving; waiting for me to let my guard down. But, as in the game of Hot Potato (which we won’t be able to play in Kindergarten this year), I toss it back to my Father who has offered to take care of it.
“Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.“Philippians 4: 6-7
Never stop praying. Always be joyful and be thankful in all circumstances. I just need to keep taking my vitamins with a healthy dose of Trust.