Not a day goes by without me thinking, “I’d rather be stacking shelves in a grocery shop!” I am primary school teacher, you see. At times, the job can be extremely stressful, but through it I get to experience the magic of having direct access to God’s power to restore and renew. How does that work? The truth is, when you’re fully immersed into the lives of other people, their pain may hurt you, but as they heal and become restored, their joy, their renewal becomes your own.
As a teacher, I see children, parents and colleagues get ill, grumpy, angry, sad, or go through painful experiences of separation, betrayal and failure. Not long ago, one of the children in my class nearly lost his dad to cancer. The boy was fragile, vulnerable and needy as it was. His mum and dad went through a painful separation. Then his dad got diagnosed with cancer. All at once and within just a couple of months. The horrendous situation had a strong impact on me as well. But I stayed with them as their world fell apart, and as they journeyed toward renewal, I was able to join them and experience it as well. His dad went through a successful operation and is continuing to get better. Both parents seem more cooperative and are exploring the way forward. The boy is happier, and when I see him being cheeky with his dad who is now able to come to school again, it is as if I have also been given a new chance, a new life, a new beginning.
Not only do I see it in my life, but I also see it in Scripture. “Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn” (NIV Rom 12:15.) We are meant to experience deep sadness as well as great joy together. We are expected to share other people’s burdens. We are meant to stick with those who are stuck themselves, to be there with them when they are yet miles away from any prospect of renewal. It is about staying there with them, even when and especially when their pain is completely foreign to us. When there seems to be no renewal, we are to sustain each other on God’s behalf, regardless of the particulars of the situation.
I find it curious that the word “rejoice” has the same prefix in it as renewal. It is as if we are meant to be with people as they are rediscovering joy. They may have lost it for some reason but are now entering a new stage. There is re-storation and re-newal of some sort, and this is why they are re-joicing, and we are meant to rejoice with them. To be honest, celebrating other people’s successes, breakthroughs and victories can be a challenge. Sometimes we make negative comparisons or we’re too busy looking for our own renewal. We feel like we can’t possibly be wasting our time celebrating awesome changes in other people’s lives when we’re trying to make some of our own. But God didn’t create us to stay in our little bubbles. He made us as a huge part of his huge world, and it is for my benefit as well as others when I learn to mourn and rejoice with those around me.
As I started to look for renewal around me, I began to see it everywhere. I see it in my other half as he recovers from his father’s death. He’s begun to enjoy life again, and I too smile, feel safe and think, “Everything is going to be alright.” I see it when I write to my pen-friend Tony, who has been on the Death Row, in solitary confinement, for more than 20 years now. Despite that he continues to live and breathe, and hopes to one day be proven innocent. His commitment to this never-ending journey of renewal gives me hope and strengthens my faith.
Renewal is all around us. We must simply train our eyes to notice it. We must train our hearts to invest in others. It’s in doing it together that helps us experience the wonder of new life, the wonder of renewal.