“Cafeteria Clash”

Over this past month, God has led me to periodically substitute teach at my children’s elementary school. Through this placement, He has revealed numerous valuable lessons in my heart.

Lessons are not always fun. Many times, they are uncomfortable and learned through undesired circumstances. I had no idea when I stepped into the school building last week that my biggest lesson of the day would not be an academic one taught in the classroom with students, but rather spiritual instruction that took place in the cafeteria with a staff member.

It was only my second time covering lunch duty as a substitute teacher. Instinctively I know the basics: make sure students stay seated, stop any food from being thrown around, keep kids safe and supplied with utensils/napkins/etc.

The cafeteria has a reference chart . . . in order to see which tables each staff member is in charge of watching over and what times the students need to start cleaning up so that they can line up for recess. This seemed simple enough. 

Occasionally kids raise their hand and ask to use the restroom. So I thought nothing of it when a student asked me for permission to go the bathroom--I said, “Sure.”

Shortly after this interaction, a staff member in the cafeteria walked up to me and bluntly asked, “Who are you?”

I was a bit confused by this confrontation, because I did not know if she was looking for my true identity (Sarah Seiz) or if she just wanted to know who I was substituting for. To me, it was obvious that I was temporarily filling in for cafeteria duty, because as a substitute teacher, we are required to wear a bright red lanyard with a name tag that says, “SUBSTITUTE.”

So I happily introduced myself as Sarah and told her who I was here for. Immediately I was scolded with something to the effect of, “Did you just let that student go to the bathroom? I never gave him my permission, and he is not supposed to leave unless he checks with me. You’re in charge of THOSE tables over THERE. This is one of MY tables.”

Completely taken off guard by the tone and message conveyed to me, I quickly apologized for not knowing this routine information, and told her that I would move closer to my designated area of the cafeteria for supervision.

Okay, thank God I was able to react politely in the moment. Because inside I felt like sarcasticaly blurting out (probably in an equally rude manner), “I’m sorry. I’m new here. I didn’t know it was a crime to allow a student to go to the bathroom. It’s not like I was ever given an official rule book for substitute cafeteria duty!”

I know--not very godly. But this is why it is important to follow the wisdom found in (James 1:19 NLT) “. . . You must all be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry.”

I finished out the remainder of my cafeteria duty (on my side) without saying anything further. Throughout the remainder of the day, I kept praying about this unsettling situation. I am here to be a bright light, not a trouble maker.

Upon reflecting, it became clear to me that I had upset the staff member. Albeit this was not intentional, but an offense did take place. Her reaction and words then set off another offense--this time it was directed towards me. I felt insulted, embarrassed, and unappreciated.

So I prayed how to make this uncomfortable situation better. The answer God gave me was . . . Grace.

Grace makes space for God’s love to spread. Grace is an undeserved free gift. So even though I felt like I was the one who was owed an apology, I was moved by the Holy Spirit to apologize to this staff member--again--except this time it needed to be sincere.

“Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others.” (Colossians 3:13 NLT)

At the end of the day, I found her and reached out my hand to gently place it on her back. I told her that I wanted to apologize again for giving her student permission to use the bathroom. I was unfamiliar with the cafeteria routine and never intended to overstep my substitute supervision boundaries or make her upset.

She quickly said that she had been reflecting on the situation as well, and apologized to me for her reaction. She told me that I must have thought she was so rude. We mutually accepted each other’s apologies. Then she thanked me for my kindness.

Crisis averted!

This juvenile cafeteria conflict is the type of situation that can cause division and generate unfruitful outcomes. It’s so important to know ahead of time that people will (deliberately or unintentionally) offend us, so that we can be prepared in advance to respond with God’s love and grace, instead of reacting with revenge and hate.

“Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.” (Ephesians 4:2-3 NIV)


A Prayer for MORE . . .

Lord, teach me more please. Give me more circumstances in life that require me to practice Spiritual fruit and show grace, instead of spiteful retaliation. Place me in offensive situations, so that I can choose to transform more and more into Your image. Amen.