Thursday, July 6, 2023

Truths about Teaching: Handling Struggles and Failure

When he was 7 years old, his family was forced out of their home and he had to work to help support them. When he was 9, his mother died. At 22, he lost his job as a store clerk. He wanted to go to law school, but lacked the education. At 23, he went into debt to become a partner in a small store. At 26, his business partner died, leaving him a huge debt that took years to repay. At 28, after courting a girl for 4 years, he asked her to marry him. She said no. At 37, on his third try, he was elected to Congress, but 2 years later he failed to get re-elected. At 41, his four-year old son died. At 45, he ran for the Senate and failed. At 47, he failed as a vice-presidential candidate. At 49, he again ran for Senate and lost. At 51, he was elected president of the United States. His name was Abraham Lincoln. 

Perhaps for you, in your teaching career, it's been 3 steps forward and 2 steps back. We've all felt the joy of success and achievement, as well as the sadness and disappointment of failure. It seems that for every peak there's been a valley. In C. S. Lewis's Screwtape Letters, an older demon is teaching one of his young apprentices. He says to the younger demon, "Have you tried discouragement? Because it always works." Here's a statement I resisted years ago but one that I now wholeheartedly embrace. 

It is doubtful that God can use anyone greatly until he has hurt him deeply. 

I can certainly identify with that statement. You might think that my life has been an easy slide. Those who know me know otherwise. The Bible is filled with people who faced struggles. Allow me to mention Abraham, and Moses, and Peter, and even Paul. Just read his catalog of sufferings in 1 Cor. 6 and 11. But as Job said, "God knows the way you take. When he has tried you, you will come forth as gold." Let me rephrase that. "When you have gone through heartache, tragedy, a broken spirit, disappointment, discouragement, disillusionment, academic inadequacy, God knows the way you take. When he has tried you, you will come forth as gold." You only see me as a blog writer or maybe as your classroom teacher. But if you knew the full story of my life, you would not be at all impressed. You'd be surprised, as I am, that I am where I am today. The good news is that God in his grace uses us, warts and all. 

We might as well admit it. None of us has a career in education because of who we are. Only what is produced in our lives by God is acceptable to him. Despite our struggles and failures, we can know him better and better every day, we can experience increasingly the power of his resurrection, and we can enter more and more into the fellowship of his sufferings. We teach, simply because he is our adequacy. Trouble is reality, but we can cheer up because he has overcome all the world can throw at us. He makes the difference.