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Julie VanSpall – Home Front

We're losing sight of the hidden treasure in our busy lives

Voices Nov 12, 2017

Just as a beautiful wildflower can become blurred in a field of greenery, the gifts of God’s presence can become overshadowed by the busy aspects of our lives, writes Julie VanSpall. (Julie VanSpall / The B.C. Catholic)

For just over a year, I have been working as a resource teacher. As a former classroom teacher, the environment of the resource department was one with which I quickly fell in love. I enjoy the variety and challenges this job provides. It is a privilege to work with many different students, on different programs and in different subject areas. The variation and high energy level appeal to me.

Along with this job, there is likewise an expectation of record-keeping and planning (which rarely happen during the course of a school day). Even though I should probably try to schedule prep time, the reality is that I need to work with the students and teachers while they’re in the school building; paper work usually waits until I’m at home, or sitting in the car at soccer practice. Right now, I’m behind and often overwhelmed.

Also with this position, there are certain incidental priorities, including the health, and physical and emotional safety of the students. When needs in these areas arise, some of my supplemental academic goals – while incredibly important – take a back seat.  Obviously, fires need to be put out before productivity can occur. As a result of these wide-ranging responsibilities, I tend to feel like I busily run around all day without accomplishing much of anything.

Recently, while feeling the pressure of a low number of checkmarks on my personal to-do list, a shy student, who had barely spoken to me last year even when I approached her, independently sought me out twice in the same week. In her words, I heard the voice of God.

In Matthew 13: 44, Jesus states, "The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure buried in a field, which a person finds and hides again, and out of joy goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.” In the midst of worrying about incomplete paper work and lessons that were being pushed aside, the little girl who finally felt comfortable enough to approach me on her own, was the treasure in my field.

Bishop Robert Barron reflects on this parable stating, “Sometimes God's love is found that way. There's the saying, ‘Life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans.’ Sometimes in the course of our everyday lives, something happens that vividly and surprisingly summons us to union with God. We realize, in a flash, what it's all about. We weren't particularly looking for it, but it found us.”

In that moment, when I wasn’t looking for it at all, I realized “what it’s all about.” Being a resource teacher is by definition someone who assists children with their learning. Deep down, though, most learning cannot happen in the absence of relationship. So, even though I was feeling unsuccessful, God reminded me that “success” doesn’t have to come in the form of a fireworks show. 

Success most often comes in small glimmers of light, such as a newly learned math concept or improved reading fluency; a proud smile from a child who has worked hard; and the voice of trust in a little one you’ve tried to support. Ultimately, success is found when one brings and receives God’s love.

Just as a beautiful wildflower can become blurred in a field of greenery, the gifts of God’s presence can become overshadowed by the busy aspects of our lives. God will see me through the “fields” of my checklists by providing reminders of his presence.

When I notice the gifts buried under piles of paperwork, I realize that, in small and seemingly insignificant ways, perhaps I really am making a difference in some of these young lives. I know for certain that, in powerful ways, my students are making a vast difference in mine.

Along with the crises, the reading, the anxieties, and the math, one of the priorities of my job has to be to remain joyfully open to noticing the everyday treasures deliberately placed right under my nose.

As Bishop Barron reminds us all, “As you walk through the fields of life, be open to the inrushing of grace, when you least expect it. And when it comes, give up anything that holds it back.”