Lisa, you’re an angel!” Steve exclaimed as he spotted the bulletin board I’d put up in his classroom. As a single, busy elementary school teacher, I had few opportunities for appreciation from men my age. Now my handsome co-teacher noticed that I’d gone the extra mile, and it warmed my heart.
A bit too much.
Steve and I had taught in the same Christian school for several years and had recently been teamed to teach third and fourth graders.
I’d always been single; Steve had been married for three years. He and Sharon had just welcomed their first child, and Steve was showing up to work bleary-eyed from wakeful hours with his colicky son. I covered for him by grading papers, creating bulletin boards, and setting up classroom rosters. In return, Steve offered me gratitude, friendship, a listening ear, and witty comments.
We were good together. As the quick one who saw solutions intuitively, I could accomplish a huge amount of work in a short time. More thoughtful and deliberate, Steve considered motives, saw where plans could go awry, and could fix broken things in the classrooms. Many Sunday afternoons, as I prepared for the coming week, Steve worked in his homeroom next door, with our adjoining door open. It was a companionable time.
As the school year progressed, Steve and I became closer as we sought solutions and survived the bumps of student and parent interactions. We arranged fun field trips, devised new twists on our system for effective behavior management, groaned over silly third- and fourth-grade stunts, and counted the days until summer.
We savored our friendship.
Then I heard the rumor. The physical education teacher had wondered aloud to a staff member whether I had a crush on Steve. I reacted with dismay and fury. Reputations are valuable, and I didn’t appreciate her messing with mine.
“That’s ridiculous,” I declared. “We work together. We’re friends. That’s it.”
“Well,” my colleague said, “you know she’s a gossip.”
“She can gossip about someone else,” I groused, hoping that would be the last of it.
But the rumors and innuendos resurfaced in words from one colleague or another. I worried over these comments. I could see how a gossipy teacher might wonder as she watched us walk together to the school office, deep in conversation. But she didn’t need to jump to conclusions. I was a Christian. I had never done anything unseemly, ever. Neither had Steve.
Our second year was more fun than the first. Steve and I picked up comfortably where we’d left off the previous spring. We functioned as a well-oiled team with strong, mutual loyalty. It felt like a mom-and-pop thing.
But as the school year progressed, I finally faced up to myself. I had begun fantasizing about being “Mom” to Steve’s “Pop.” More than that, I suspected I wasn’t the only one in trouble. I rarely saw Steve and Sharon together, and when I did, I sensed an air of tension between them. I also noticed that Steve didn’t rush home at the end of the school day and that he spent long hours in his classroom on the weekends. Ominously, this made sense to me. Maybe home wasn’t so good. My inner chatter compared me to Steve’s wife, and I ended up looking pretty good.
Then the Holy Spirit broke through. What on earth are you doing, Lisa? the inner Voice asked.
I was finally willing to admit that I’d gotten emotionally attached to Steve. Too attached. And if my observations about Steve and his wife were on track, I knew I wasn’t safe.
“So what now?” I asked God in my worship time. “What do I do with these feelings?”
“Go away where?”
Should I find another school to teach in? Exactly what did “go away” mean?
I thought about it through the spring and made a decision. I’d leave town as soon as school was out and drive 1,500 miles to my parents’ place. While there, I would pray for Steve and Sharon. I couldn’t pray about my feelings for Steve, because, frankly, I enjoyed them. But I could pray that Steve’s and Sharon’s marriage would improve. That would be right for Steve, even if it left me with less.
Go away. Pray.
It’s tough to pray for one thing when you’d rather have another. When you’re in the midst of it, the whole situation is confusing. But confusion evaporates when you choose to walk in God’s ways.
Several spiritual truths have become clear as I’ve reflected on my experience:
1 Good Christians are vulnerable.
People rarely teach Christians about the need to guard their hearts. We tend to assume that if you’re connected to God, you’ll never have to deal with more than the fleeting physical attraction to an out-of-bounds person. Right?
God never promised to keep us away from temptation. He only promised that He has been there before us and will see us through it.
2 Vigilance must be a Christian’s daily stance.
“Above all else,” warns Solomon, “guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life” (Proverbs 4:23). If we weren’t vulnerable to straying hearts, we wouldn’t have to guard them. Straying from wisdom (and from one’s spouse) isn’t just the domain of high-profile celebrities who throw away marriages left and right. Our own hearts constantly betray us.
3 The observations of others can cue us in to danger.
“He who listens to a life-giving rebuke will be at home among the wise. He who ignores discipline despises himself, but whoever heeds correction gains understanding” (Proverbs 15:31, 32). It’s important to consider the observations of others, even when they seem critical or accusing. My colleague’s gossip infuriated me, but, in the end, it was her remarks and my attempt to counter them that forced me to face up to my situation. God uses all kinds of people and circumstances to help us recognize dangerous circumstances.
4 When we recognize danger, turn to God.
When God comes walking in our direction, it’s in our sinful nature to be ashamed and hide. But God comes to help and to guide. Our sinfulness doesn’t prevent the Holy Spirit’s voice from finding us in times of danger, as long as we are open to hearing it. “Do not be anxious about anything,” says Paul in one of my favorite passages, “but in everything, by prayer and petition, . . . present your requests to God” (Philippians 4:6). He invites us to bring our messes to Him.
5 God gives peace.
It was scary when I realized I was out of God’s plan and didn’t even want to change. That’s when God stepped in. Paul says, “And the peace of God, . . . will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (verse 7). When guarding our hearts is beyond our own desires and control, God is ready to grant His peace to guard our hearts and minds.
6 We can refocus.
While God is working with our hearts and minds, we can choose to refocus. Paul says, “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things” (verse 8). We have the power—vastly underrated in an upside-down world where self-serving values and passions reign supreme— to deliberately turn our thoughts aside. But God has told us where to focus, and following His instructions turns things right-side-up again.
So, I refocused. Over the summer, I read, visited old friends, helped with Vacation Bible School at the local church, and traveled. When I found my thoughts turning to Steve, I prayed that God would strengthen his marriage, then forced my thoughts to other things. And it worked! It was a good summer.
Returning to work in the fall, I noticed right off that Steve and Sharon had grown closer over the summer. Sharon dropped by work more often to see him; he left for home earlier in the afternoon. I found myself amazed at God’s answer to my prayer. Although I felt lonely, I also felt more secure. Time passed, and my attraction to Steve slowly faded, even as we continued to work together. Life moved on and eventually so did I, to a life of greater joy and sweeter companionship than I could have imagined.
“Guard your heart,” Solomon advised. Despite the media saying it’s the ultimate joy to be swept off your feet by love, it is not right to be caught in an affection outside of God’s plan. We must be vigilant, listen to the counsel of others, seek God and His will, move out of a path of darkness, and to refocus our lives on His qualities and values.
We are not helpless, at the mercy of our longings. God has promised strength for the asking. Living by principle can be a wrenching struggle, but the strength gained in such a painful battle prepares the disciple’s character for heaven.
* Lisa Salt is a pseudonym