At the start of every school year, I ask my middle school students to prepare a brief “About Me” assignment to introduce themselves. I ask them to share a couple of fun personal facts, a bit about their families, and a few adjectives describing themselves. It’s a wonderful way to get a snapshot of how students view themselves. They often make one or two declarations about their identity, such as:
“I am an athlete. I run cross country and play volleyball.”
“I’ve been called the class clown, and I like to make other people laugh.”
“I’m quiet and shy. The thing I enjoy most about school is being with friends.
I do the same when I’m asked to introduce myself, so I know what I’m asking of my students is not simple. They must sift through all of their data and land on just a few choice words to share with others. When I do this, I tend to opt for the obvious: wife of Tim, mother of Seth and Reed. Sometimes more is needed, so I add my occupation: English teacher. When I am feeling brave, I’ll add “writer.” Wife, mother, teacher, writer…yes, these are all labels I wear.
There are other identities out there, and throughout the school year I have the opportunity to watch them emerge from my students. There’s the LEADER, who runs for student council, volunteers to speak in chapel, and takes charge of group work. There’s the PEACEMAKER, who stands in the gap when friends are bickering and mediates the conflict. There’s the ENCOURAGER, who takes note of students who are hurting and presses in. There’s the ENTHUSIAST, who loves our school and encourages classmates to get fired up at pep rallies and games. There’s the PRAGMATIST, who is there to get the job done (“job” being assignments, reports, and tests).
There’s also the student who emerges as the INITIATOR. She is the one who invites the new student to join her at the football game, proposes the idea of a lunchtime book club, and instigates a Monday morning prayer time for the 8th grade girls. I relate to this student, as I am an INITIATOR too. Often, I am the one who instigates an event. It may be something as small as a coffee date or a dinner gathering, or it might be as huge as a new women’s ministry at church. Whatever it is, the catalyst for it is…well…me.
As an observer, I notice that students in each of these roles have certain qualities that seem to be in their DNA. The leader is personable and confident. The peacemaker displays gentleness and patience. The encourager has compassion and understanding. The enthusiast overflows with passion and energy. The pragmatist shows impressive focus and drive.
For the initiator, it’s our vision and courage that shine. An initiator sees a need and has a vision for how to meet that need. Then we act. It’s that second part that sets the initiator apart, and maybe why it often seems there aren’t many of us out there.
It’s a risky move to initiate because we have no control over how people will respond.
Two summers ago, I offered a worship night in my home, and every chair was filled. Two weeks ago, I invited a group of mentors to meet together at a local coffee shop, and no one came. In both of these instances, I had a vision and initiated. Then, I showed up. In that place of wholehearted offering, I had done my part.
It’s a huge gift when invitation is welcomed by others and yields the desired fruit—connection, conversation, shared wisdom, mutual encouragement. However, I believe that the fruit is actually being made manifest within me as I am faithful to my calling as an initiator. God is cultivating discernment, faithfulness, deeper courage, and perseverance. He’s doing that through my offering, regardless of the response.
I’m trying to raise sons who are initiators. I’ve sought to teach them to see need and opportunity, to take the risk to instigate, and then to be okay, whatever the response. Oftentimes they are simply inviting friends to a movie or to the house for a game night. Sometimes they hear “no,” and they are learning not to take it personally. I see courage, confidence, and resilience growing in these moments. Other times the boys find themselves seated at a table full of friends playing “spoons”—laughing, talking, and connecting. Their invitation has drawn others to the table, and the fruit is evident. My sons are learning, as I have, that the reward of instigating is well worth the risk.
Susan Tucker spends her days mothering her two teenage sons, teaching middle school English, and savoring rare moments of quiet and solitude. She lives in Knoxville, Tennessee, with her sons and her husband of 23 years. Susan finds life in a beautiful story, an authentic conversation, worship music, and ultimately, in Jesus, the giver of all good gifts.