A few weeks ago during dismissal, I sat at my desk for a moment and watched my students leave. Usually I join the students in putting up chairs and gathering my belongings before I grade papers, email parents, and discuss teaching strategies with colleagues. My eighth graders had started one of my favorite books, To Kill a Mockingbird, and already several of the kids had come to me saying how much they liked it and how far ahead they were. But something didn’t seem right, and as I watched my my students leave, I wondered, How many of them actually get it? I wasn’t so much concerned with whether they grasped who wrote what book or why a character made a certain decision or what a hyperbole is, but who Christ is, what the gospel is and means. After the last student shut the door, I couldn’t help crying, which (at least this time) turned to praying. I opened my copy of To Kill a Mockingbird and flipped through the chapters we were reading about Scout’s first day of school battles with the new teacher, Miss Caroline:
Atticus stood up and walked to the end of the porch. When he contemplated his examination of the wisteria vine he strolled back to me.
“First of all,” he said, “if you can learn a simple trick, Scout, you’ll get along a lot better with all kinds of folks. You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view—”
“—until you climb in his skin and walk around in it.” (39)
Since my first time reading Mockingbird, I have appreciated Atticus’s simplicity and wisdom, but as I read these lines again, I realized I had a new opportunity to share the gospel with my students.
The next day, I had my students write journal entries (funny or personal—their choice) based on the following prompt:
I just wish (insert a person here) would understand…
When they finished, I told them we would be rewriting the entries from the other person’s point of view. Then I shared Atticus’s words with them, along with the following verses:
Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. (Hebrews 4:14-16)
I then asked them, “Who climbed in our skin and walked around in it?”
We talked for a few minutes about how the God of the universe, who wasn’t under obligation to create us, much less understand us, came down and climbed into our skin, walked around in it, and then died for each person in the room. With that grace and knowledge, we ought to walk around in other people’s skin because Christ chose to do the same for us. Climbing in someone’s skin can be:
- as simple as imagining you are the person and reflecting on the situation,
- as convicting and compassionate as prayer,
- or as practical as physically doing whatever it is the person does–whether it be washing the dishes, watching the kids, or helping with homework.
As I read the student’s journals, the ones where they had to write from a different point of view, I noticed that most of these entries sounded more like letters. Some of the letters had to be hard to write, as they were from the perspective of someone who had offended or hurt the writer in some way. The beauty came from the students’ insight and compassion. The letters were characterized by an ability to give any offending parties the benefit of the doubt, not excuses, but a realization that we are humans broken by sin.
Scout never could understand Miss Caroline or the Cunninghams.
I may not understand a student’s inattention.
You may not understand your son or daughter’s mood swings.
And we won’t understand until we imitate Christ and climb in each other’s skin. Whether we remember, forget, or even fail, we can rest in the truth that the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.
*Previously written for and published by Cornerstone Academy.
The ESV Study Bible. Ed. Lane T. Dennis. Wheaton: Crossway, 2008. Print.
Lee, Harper. To Kill a Mockingbird. New York: Grand Central Publishing, 1982. Print.
**Image taken from https://www.pinterest.com/pin/535083999448092013/.