Adversity, disappointment, weaknesses, loneliness, aggravation, frustration, uncertainty, instability -- these are the instructors I'd avoid at all costs. If only I could.
And so another school year begins, accompanied by my regular repertoire of parental advice, better known, (if not more affectionately known), as "lectures." Last week's play list featured a personal and perennial favorite. When one of our kids came out with the "I really don't like my English/ math/ history/ science/ whatever teacher," I was ready. "You don't have to like your teacher, and your teacher doesn't have to like you," I replied. "Your teacher's job is to teach you, and your job is to learn."
I give this piece of advice to our kids because of my own less than exemplary history as a student. Growing up, I always struggled with teachers I didn't like or who I thought didn't like me. I didn't work hard; I didn't care much; I didn't do well. It was, I think, an immature and childish way of punishing any teacher who didn't suit me. Of course, it wasn't a particularly effective punishment. The only thing it really accomplished was lowering my grades -- not his or hers.
Somewhere between high school and earning a master's degree, I realized that everyone had something to teach me, and I didn't have to be in love with the instructor to learn the material. At least, I thought I'd wised up. But as soon as those words came out of my mouth the other day, I started thinking about all the teachers I have now -- the ones who don't stand at the front of classrooms lit by fluorescent lights.
I don't like all my teachers, and I'm still not all that willing to learn from teachers I don't like. Even when there's a lot I can learn from them. Adversity, disappointment, weaknesses, loneliness, aggravation, frustration, uncertainty, instability -- these are the instructors I'd avoid at all costs. If only I could. I mean, who wants to be enrolled in their classes? But underneath it, I know I need to learn what these teachers have to offer. I also know that I'll just keep failing if I don't apply myself to the lessons.
I don't want to have health issues, or get older, or struggle with finances or relationships. I don't want to feel threatened, or anxious, or insecure. I don't want to deal with boredom, or mediocrity, or the irritating person in front of me. I don't want to be arrogant or lack confidence, expect too much or too little, overextend myself or waste the time I have.
I do, however, want to attend to my physical needs, appreciate life at all its stages, be responsible with what I possess, and build relationships that are characterized by love and respect. I want to be open, calm, and trusting. I want to be content, excellent at what I do, and at the same time tolerant and patient with others. I want to be self-assured, fulfill my potential, and generous with my time.
Life has a way of teaching us precisely what we don't want to learn. And until we learn it, we're pretty much stuck at the same grade level. If I spend all my time complaining about the assignments instead of doing them, or allow myself to be distracted by enumerating all the things I find distasteful or otherwise unacceptable, I will keep myself from learning what I most need to learn.
Christian discipleship is a school without summer vacations: an academy of holiness, virtue, and love. In the end, God really doesn't have it in for us any more than our 7th grade science teachers did. He permits suffering in our lives not to punish or hurt us, but to instruct us. He allows us to be schooled so that someday we might actually receive the schooling. And his Holy Spirit teaches us, not because we are great students, but because he hopes that someday we just might become teachable.
Jaymie Stuart Wolfe is a wife and mother of eight children, and a disciple of the spirituality of St. Francis de Sales. She is an inspirational author, speaker, musician and serves as an Associate Children's Editor at Pauline Books and Media.
Jaymie Stuart Wolfe is a Catholic convert, wife, and mother of eight. Inspired by the spirituality of St. Francis de Sales, she is an author, speaker, and musician, and serves as a senior editor at Ave Maria Press. Find Jaymie on Facebook or follow her on Twitter @YouFeedThem.