One thing I could count on with every class of students, no matter what grade I was teaching, was that I would receive gifts at Christmastime. Of course, the younger grades usually produced more presents, but I always received at least a couple gifts in the older classrooms as well.
Most of the gifts were Christmas ornaments. Some of my favorites were handmade, and our Christmas tree is still decorated with many of the loving gifts of students past. I also received a number of gift cards. I have a whole drawer full of gift cards to the local coffee house, to the local book store, to local restaurants, etc. Mugs were also in fad for awhile, and at one time, an entire cupboard of our kitchen was filled with mugs from students. One gift in particular, however, will always stand out in my mind…
The student waited until after school to give it to me, and I could tell from the look on his face that he was very, very proud of his gift. When all the other students had left the classroom, he approached me and handed me a bottle-shaped package. “My dad chose this for you!” he said.
Please understand that I made a decision very early on in life to never touch alcohol. I want to be myself, in my right mind. I want to be an image of my Father in Heaven, and I knew I would never be able to do that with alcohol in my blood. I take the truth of Ephesians 5:18 very seriously: “And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit.” (ESV). With this in mind, you can imagine my horror to open that package and find… A bottle of whiskey!
I have a pretty good poker face, however, and the student apparently believed my attempts to act gracious, because he began to talk then. He told me all about his family, his future plans, his ambitions… It is truly a wonderful thing to have a student open up to you like this, and though I had no idea what I would do with that whiskey, the best gift of all was the student’s openness and his apparent confidence in me. It was truly beautiful.
In the end, I thanked him profusely for his gift, and he left that day feeling like he had given me something very special. And in reality, he had!
It is said that in regards to gifts, it is the thought that counts. This most definitely was the case with that bottle of whiskey. Should I have told him I didn’t drink? It’s a question I asked myself afterwards. If I had done so, however, the student would have left feeling like a failure. He would have been angry at his dad for choosing such a gift, and he never would have opened his heart to me. I couldn’t do that to him. I realized as he spoke with me that what he was truly seeking was love and acceptance; and rather than pass judgment on him and his dad for giving such a gift, I chose to accept him and his family, and love them for the thought that went into my gift.
Jesus’ teachings on judging are clear: “Judge not, that you be not judged. For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you.” (Matthew 7:1-2 NKJV). So often we, as Christians, can’t seem to see a hungry heart because we are blinded by outward things. So often the length of someone’s hair, their odor, the cleanliness of their clothing, their choice of company, their choice of a Christmas gift, or a myriad of other things turns us off. Fortunately, God sees beyond all of those things. He sees right through to our hearts. Perhaps we would do well to try to see things from God’s perspective a bit more often. If we did, perhaps we would begin to show less judgmentalism and more love. Perhaps we might even foster an atmosphere of acceptance, one that will draw people to wanting to know more about God, rather than pushing them away…
And all of that from a bottle of whiskey that I didn’t even drink…
In His love,
(To access the entire “Christmas With Students” devotional series, please click here.)