The Red Pen

School starts this week! Teachers staple the last bulletin boards and finish lesson plans, while parents count outfits and figure schedules. Some years ago, I taught 6-9th grade sciences. Some years filled me with anticipation each morning, but other years, I counted the days until the students ran with backpacks bouncing into summer. The batch of students each year determined whether the year would sweeten or sour. 

School administration gauges sweetness in the classroom by tests, so teachers wield The Red Pen. With The Red Pen, check marks reward correct answers, and X marks flag incorrect answers. I looked forward to grading tests, eager to see students’ grasp on the material covered in class. 

To check a correct answer gratified me, and the student would earn a “great job” or other note of praise written in red ink, but the red X disappointed. The Xs clued me to student difficulties and my failures to convey information. I used various methods of teaching to reach students with different learning styles. In addition, I emphasized  and repeated important points. If I knew a student was capable and not emotionally troubled, persistent red Xs frustrated the stew out of me. On those tests splotched with Xs, I pressed The Red Pen harder and harder with each following wrong answer. A teacher can work hours to design interesting approaches to instruction, but students must care enough to do their part.

I archived my teaching many years ago but still walk around with The Red Pen in my pocket. Unconsciously I keep my eyes open for any transgression or perceived slight. When someone hurts or irritates me, out comes The Red Pen, and one can be sure the perpetrator will not receive a passing grade. I layer walls of grade books between myself and other people.

My judgey nature does not grieve as it ought, and alarm bells ring in my mind warning that my heart is soiled and unresponsive. It is not until I come to grips with my own failures and recognize the red Xs on my hypocritical forehead that my heart can sympathize with other peoples’ failures. “Poor So-and-So, they’re struggling with the same X as I do. Suzy, put away The Red Pen.”

I feel I must be perfect to warrant God’s amazing love, so I deal harshly with myself, and in turn, harshly with others. What a foolish person I am to unconsciously elevate myself by putting down others. God loves us all, not based on merits or demerits, but based on His character. As a Father, He loved us before we could eat or breathe on our own, much less live perfect lives.

When someone bumps into my feelings and keeps going, I must admit that I bump into people too. I think of The Red Pen and remind myself that we’re all in this classroom  together in need of God’s grace and instruction. We are not in competition for our Teacher’s attention or approval. Besides, our Teacher doesn’t carry around The Red Pen for anyone who turns to Him for grace. 

God took our red Xs and plastered them all over Jesus, then Jesus bore them on a big X reddened by His blood. He descended into death with our Xs, then left them behind when He rose from the dead. 

Through Jesus, we pass. We pass from darkness to light. We pass from this world into the next, even while we inhabit this classroom and on occasion break the rules. May this school year be one of the sweet ones as we, classmates, receive and give grace to each other. Let’s put on our new outfits and eagerly find our Teacher, leaving all the red Xs to Him.

21 thoughts on “The Red Pen”

  1. Love this Suzy—and the visual of Jesus taking all of our red X’s on him. Thanks for this great reminder of our tendency to judge. I know I will be more aware of it now ;).

  2. Your way with words is a gift to us all! “Frustrated the stew out of me!” :-)!!! What a gentle and necessary invitation to enjoy humility together! Thank you.

    1. “Enjoy humility,” tickles me, but I do enjoy humility when it visits. Being freed from self is a relief on the rare occasions when I am truly humble. Acknowledging my failings ushers in those times.

  3. Thank you my friend for helping us see ourselves in a different light! Love the X illustrations. Thanks for writing!

  4. Thank you for helping us grow in our awareness of how often we judge ourselves and others, and thank you for the reminder about the generosity of God’s grace and that we have the opportunity to generously extend it to others as well as to ourselves.

  5. Denise Martindale

    What a wonderful analogy! I am so thankful for you. Your story reminded me of a recent conversation. I was talking to a friend who is a mom of a prodigal. Inspired by a book by Mary DeMuth, Love Pray Listen, my friend highlighted that we should allow the Lord to work in our own hearts through our own unique circumstances rather than judging a person in question. Easier said that done! However, you’ve provided a vivid visual reminder to stop judging others by putting down the red pen. Amen!

    1. I love this, Denise,” allow the Lord to work in our own hearts through our own unique circumstances rather than judging a person in question.” Thank you.

  6. Suzy. Great & timely thoughts as a new school year begins. Reminds me to remember that as I start a new day, week, adventure or other activity to put away my Red Pen & be humble!! The Golden Rule never goes “out of style.” Lydia

  7. You’re right about the Golden Rule. How easily I forget the simplicity and beauty of that summary of God’s commands.

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