"With all vigilance guard your heart, for in it are the sources of life."
When I was first hired to teach at my high school and was told I was going to be teaching social justice, I was very excited. I had learned a lot from different teachers over the years about social justice issues plaguing our society and I wanted to ignite a fire in my students that they could make a difference and impact society. I knew it was going to be a challenging topic to teach, especially to high school students, but I never realized the toll it would have on me. Halfway through my first year of teaching, one of my students handed me a post it note with Proverbs 4:23 written on it. The interpretation she had written was “Above all else, guard your heart. For everything you do flows from it.” It took me some time to realize what she was trying to tell me through this passage, but once I realized what she meant it changed my thinking and my outlook on what I was teaching and the world around me.
Some of the topics we cover are racism, prejudice, and poverty. I very quickly realized that in order to make the girls aware of the problems in the world around them, I had to bring in real world examples. At the beginning of every class, my students were invited to bring in news articles or experiences of their own that related back to the topic. I would also research different events or issues myself. After reading and hearing somewhere around 100 different examples of where our society has gone wrong and how we are hurting each other, I began to get a sense of hopelessness. My heart began to hurt because we have so many solutions on how to make our society better, and still nothing ever gets done. It reached a point that I didn’t think society would ever change and I started to stop believing in what I was teaching.
Every morning we wake up and turn on the news and see news report after news report of our society tearing each other apart and forgetting the value that each one of us has. That kind of destruction and hurt takes a toll on you; especially your heart, and can make you feel helpless. My student recognized what was happening to my heart and saw me breaking after every news report and life experience I heard in class. She left me this note to remind me that despite the world we are living in, we have to guard our hearts because that is where your drive and spirit comes from. She showed me that if I protect my heart and keep faith and hope in God and the world he created, things could get better.
It is really easy to lose faith and hope and have your heart get hurt if you don’t guard it. Once you lose hope and your heartbreaks, everything in your life is affected. Your heart is the center of everything and it drives your life and your passion. If you don’t guard it and keep it safe, you can’t be the best version of yourself.
Erin Flynn serves as a high school religion teacher in the Diocese of Brooklyn, New York.
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