The Traffic Light Story
January 31-February 6, 2021 – Cianna Dalida
When I was in 2nd grade, my teacher had this cardboard traffic light on a stand in the back of the classroom. It was a cartoony looking traffic light with, of course, a green circle at the bottom, yellow in the middle, and red, plus a happy face and it wore a blue police hat at the top. It looked like a happy traffic light but it held much more significance in our class because it was the way our teacher tracked our behavior; green meant good behavior, yellow was “Okay you acted up“, red was trouble, and blue was the dreaded “Your parents need to be called.”
Every student in the class had a clothespin with their name written on it and every day everyone’s clip started at the bottom on green. If you misbehaved, the teacher would ask you to move your clip to yellow in front of everybody and if you continued to misbehave she would have you move it again to red and so on. It was always something to watch; the teacher calling out a kid for saying a mean word and then everybody silently staring at him getting up to move his name. There was a way you could get your clip back down to green though, if you behaved better throughout the day or did something nice, etc.
We also all had this slip of paper with five little traffic lights on it and we colored in where our clip landed at the end of every day. This is how good behavior was encouraged and bad behavior was condemned in a 2nd grade classroom. At the end of every week, we brought this slip home to show our parents; it was like a weekly report card of our behavior.
I prided myself on having a perfect record of green traffic lights colored in every week. Whoever had a perfect record on Friday, our teacher gave a candy and I always looked forward to it; it was a very satisfying routine. I’d take my little slip home and my parents wouldn’t pay much attention to it because it was always the same, a perfect set of all green lights, there was no need to check really.
Well, one day we were in little discussion groups and my group and I couldn’t stop laughing about something while the teacher was talking, so she had us all get up and move our clips from green to yellow.
It felt like the end of the world; my heart sank and I was just devastated. I felt so much shame getting up and walking to where the traffic light was and touching my clip that I never had reason to touch before.
For the rest of the day, I tried to behave better than I ever had before; I would raise my hand first, stay quiet in line, be the first with my hands folded and ready at my desk.
Nothing I did got my teacher’s attention enough to let me move my clip back to green.
Our grandma picked me and Evan up from school at the time which offered me a little relief before my parents could see the yellow light on my slip. Once we got to her house I crawled under a blanket and just cried. My perfect green record was marred by one little yellow circle. I blamed myself for laughing the few seconds that I did, I blamed my group for making me laugh, I realized my reputation for being one of the students that always had a perfect record was ruined, I felt like an imposter, like a bad kid, that parents would kick me out of the house, a whole frenzy of unreasonable things.
I don’t remember how showing my parents my slip went. I just know it wasn’t anything as bad as little Cianna had imagined.
A lot of times I believe, we let our fear and shame distort how we think God sees us; all I focused on was myself, how bad I thought of myself and how that affected what I thought I deserved. You don’t need to try so hard or beat yourself up over trying to right a wrong, like I did trying to behave even better to get my clip back to green. It isn’t up to you to fix yourself, to save yourself. YOU can’t for “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). It’s not about you but what God does for you. You don’t need to be ashamed of what others see of your mistakes or feel like you have to maintain a reputation. God doesn’t have a system in place to make you behave and make you feel guilty if you don’t; our relationship with God isn’t good behavior traded for a reward. You don’t need to feel like you constantly have to please God or satisfy any expectations he might have of you.
God sees all that you are and all that you are not and loves you; “How precious also are Your thoughts to me, Oh God! How great is the sum of them! If I should count them, they would be more in number than the sand; When I awake, I am still with you.” (Psalm 139: 17-18)
God replaces your spotted record with his perfect one, calling it your own and he takes this and shows it to His Father with whom we find favor.
I still got my clip moved down to yellow a few times. But it’s not about how many mistakes you make because we are all forgiven. So use every experience to be better and remember that no matter what, God’s got you and He’s always on your side.