Grace-Infused Living: “Why are you so happy?”

When you spend so many hours a week with students, you begin to realize your role as a “whole person” educator.

I realized this in an acute way when I ended class this past May and was ready to move on with my day. Instead, my student Joe raised his hand and asked if I would please share with the class my secret for happiness.

It went like this:

“Before you go, would you please tell us your secret for being so happy all the time?”

“Joe, I’m not happy all the time. You remember when I came into class that Wednesday after I had the Norovirus and had been on morphine in the ER the day before? I wasn’t happy that day.”

“Yes you were. You were, like, dying, and you were so positive and teaching about verbs and stuff, and you were about to pass out. You were still happy.”

“Well, I love God. I pray and read my Bible every day. My problems are all God’s problems, so that makes it easy to be happy. God takes care of me.”

When the students didn’t leave, I just stared at them for a while. It seemed like they wanted me to keep going, so I did.

“And I don’t get drunk. And I sleep well. And I don’t have any toxic or oppressive relationships. And I love what I do, and I love you.”

They wouldn’t leave. It’s like they wanted to take notes on the secret to happiness. I talked about baking with my husband, reading books, walking in the woods, loving God, and maybe fifty other ideas of how he could live his life including playing tennis, writing a novel, and serving his community.

It was precious and honest, but also desperate and sad.

I remember, I was like Joe as a student–looking for role models.

I remember feeling the same way as a student; I was desperate to learn how to build my adult life. I was looking for role models to teach me how to live a good life. I hungered for information on what to value, how to set life goals, and how to be happy. I spent time with professors because I wanted to learn not just about the course material, but also about material for becoming an adult.

It’s been two decades since I graduated from the University of Virginia. I can still remember every professor or graduate student who taught me. I remember our office hour conversations as I tried to find meaning in my life. I remember searching out professors in coffee shops or the library just to ask questions about the possibilities for my future.

I remember myself back then (spiritually seeking, depressed, confused, terrified about the future), so when a student comes to my office, intrigued by my faith in Jesus or asking existential questions, I take those questions seriously as opportunities God has orchestrated for me to guide students in their spiritual journeys.

Many times over the years, students have asked me about how to have a relationship with God, and I’ve offered to explain how they, too, could know Jesus.  I’ve learned the power of simple and direct encouragement that can change the whole course of a student’s life. I’m always looking for that moment to encourage students who have lost hope, especially those who cannot imagine a future for themselves.

Sometimes the questions students ask me do not, on the surface, seem like deeply spiritual questions, but I’m coming to understand that most questions are, in fact, spiritual in some way or another.

For example, Patrick shared that his favorite book was Steinbeck’s East of Eden, but he couldn’t tell me why he loved it so much. “Can you tell me why I love it?” That day, I explained to Patrick that he loves the allegory of a son searching for the love of a father his whole life. “It’s the Biblical story of our need for a Heavenly Father’s love.”

Patrick wanted to hear more and more, and soon, I had a group of ten students coming to the coffee shop to talk about stories and Christian allegories and beauty.

They’d even bring their terribly sappy love poems to share.  And I listen. And I learn.  And that helps make me happy too.