This morning in Job 9, I read “If only there were someone to mediate between us, someone to bring us together,” and I was reminded of a difficult situation when I was teaching fifth grade.
I was excited to move from third to fifth since I felt I got along better with older students. And I did. Even students (such as my daughter’s closest friend) who didn’t like me much in third grade enjoyed my fifth grade class.
I looked forward to teaching with the other fifth grade teacher, having heard so much about what a fantastic teacher she was. I couldn't wait to collaborate with her. We were about the same age and each of us had a son, a daughter, and a loving husband. I thought we'd really hit it off.
My relationship dream was quickly shattered because she soon made it clear she did not intend to share anything with me—ideas, equipment, space—nothing. We had to share students because the students changed classrooms for math, science, and social studies. I even tried to share what I'd read or done, hoping that if I shared ideas so would she.
I noticed that she did not come to the teachers' dining room but stayed in the lounge at lunchtime. To give us some time together, I started bringing my lunch and joining her two days a week. Soon she started staying in her classroom for the duration of every lunch period.
The more I got to know her, the more astonished I was at the high regard in which students and parents held her. In fact, her comments and questions in faculty meetings often brought sidelong glances and even snickers from the other teachers. Unfortunately, I, too, was guilty of being amused by her responses.
"I need to talk to you in the teacher's lounge," she said one afternoon, tightly.
Meekly, I followed. Closing the door, she turned to me, eyes blazing. "I cannot believe the way you treated me in the faculty meeting yesterday!" she began. "When I asked about the transparencies with that machine, you looked around and rolled your eyes! That was so hateful!
"I just can't take it anymore! You thrust yourself into this grade against my wishes and then are so pushy and arrogant about all your ideas. Always telling me something you've read or something you're doing—and wanting to copy my ideas as well. And you're always yelling at me!
"I can tell you I've had it! You constantly humiliate me in front of the students. Even when we weren't teaching the same grade, you would rarely speak to me in the hall. I'd be leading a class down the hall and we'd meet you and I'd say, 'Hello, Mrs. Boyd!' and you'd just give that little tight-lipped smirk and go on. One day a child even asked, 'Why didn't Mrs. Boyd speak to you?' and I didn't know what to say!"
At this point, I started to say that I usually speak to people the first time I see them for the day and after that just smile as we meet--that it seemed artificial to me to speak jovially at every hall encounter, as she did. I didn't know what she meant by "tight-lipped smirk," but decided I'd better use a mirror to analyze my smile. Fortunately, I sensed that it was not the time for rebuttal. I stood there in silence, trying to look humble and contrite.
Finally, I simply apologized. I explained that I bore her no ill will—had, in fact, looked forward to teaching with her. Trying to word it differently each time, I apologized again and again—for intruding, for being unfriendly, for being overbearing, for existing.
I prayed about the situation. My family was aware of it; friends outside of school were aware of it. I hesitated to mention it at school because I didn’t want to be guilty of gossiping or complaining. I tried being kind and interested—“heaping burning coals,” as Solomon (Proverbs 25:20-21) and then Paul (Romans 12:20) advised, but to no avail.
I didn’t know what to pray. That she would move to another grade? That she would change? That I could figure out how to placate her? That she’d fall down the three flights of stairs to our rooms? Surely not.
Instead, I simply prayed for God’s help, and he soon sent it in the form of a beautiful young woman as our co-worker and unofficial mediator. Cathy’s gracious and loving nature toward each of us bridged the gap and we actually, over the years, became friends. We were never close enough to joke about the earlier years, but we were close enough that when I left she wept and said how much she would miss me. Amazingly, I realized that I would miss her, too.
So when I read today that Job was wishing for a mediator, I immediately thought of sweet Cathy and what a blessing she had been to us. And Job’s words were prophetic, for today we all have the greatest mediator of all—Jesus Christ, mediating for us with God. I couldn’t help but wonder if there is a situation where God might expect me, too, to be a mediator. And then I remembered a time he did put me in that role. I’ll write about that another time.