To the surprise of my friends and family, I love being a middle school teacher. While admiring my enthusiasm, most people picture a hectic classroom filled with rowdy youth. It is true, some days I swear my students are on their second cup of coffee by first period. I have learned to enjoy these days because underneath all of that energy rests a deep desire to encounter Christ. In their fast-paced culture, young people’s hearts crave moments of silence, peace, and union with Jesus. When I first started teaching, I wanted each middle schooler to learn how to pray and to begin their relationship with Christ, but my efforts were not bearing much fruit.
I was doing something wrong. I began by praying the Our Father and Hail Mary with each class. My students knew these prayers from elementary school and did not show much excitement for praying them. My solution was to further explain the biblical origin of these basic prayers. While doing this helped a little, I still knew most of my students were not encountering Christ. No matter how much time I spent explaining the Our Father or Hail Mary, my voice was always the loudest one in the room. Even after introducing other prayers, there was no noticeable change. Why did the Holy Spirit not seem present?
I prayed the words of Saint Paul, “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words” (Rom 8:26). I needed the Spirit to teach my students to pray!