You Can't Do It
Consider it pure joy, my brothers, when you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. (James 1:2-3)
Dude. You are racking up the perseverance. Am I right? Are you feeling the tsunami of perseverance wash over you as you face trials of many kinds right now?
I’m not really one to make jokes using scripture – well, yes I am – but this is no joke. The two weeks before school starts are, in my book, the “trials of many kinds” to which Paul is referring. That veteran teacher who, in a meeting of 140 people, raises her hand in response to the “If there aren’t any more questions, we will let you go for the day” only to ask when the A/C is going to be turned on in room 208. Trials. The announcement that the 800 stacks of pads that you have fully stocked in your desk – office referrals, nurse’s passes, library passes – will be tossed and replaced with new ones. Oh goodie! Trials. The six hours a day of sitting in a plastic chair in the cafeteria watching really bad Powerpoint presentations. Trials. Oh, and then the team building exercises. Lord have mercy on my sour attitude soul, but those are trials. And the poor administrators who are equally as beat down by the requisite rules and obligatory presentation of said rules. They too want to just see the kids and get going. It’s what we all want, but instead we are racking up the perseverance.
It’s not that I hate team building or updates to the system or questions (I am a teacher after all, and “there’s no such thing as a dumb question”). I just hate the way my mind is working while enduring the meetings and the questions. I just want to work in my room. I have a checklist of checklists going. I’m so excited to get started that I can’t stand to sit. And I’m full of hope that this year is going to be the best year yet. And I’m even more confident that I, yes I, can do it! I can, with my own strength (and just the right amount of checklists) DO. THIS.
I frequently field the question, “Why expo markers?” as people read my blog. (Amusingly, no one asks, “Why wine?”) And my reply is always the same: I need three things to successfully navigate a school year – Jesus, wine, and expo markers. And in that order.
I think heaven will be full of new school supplies. Am I right? Sharpened pencils and fresh notebooks – oh the glory! For me, the ultimate school supply is the expo marker package. So many colors. Such bold ink. It’s a new, fresh start every year, and I love a fresh start.
But this is what happens. I take my favorite one – purple – and I make the most beautiful strokes on the clean whiteboard. It’s art for me to display my “essential question” in bold, brilliant expo. And that purple holds out for weeks. It really does. But occasionally between class periods, I forget to put the cap on. Or I use so much ink on the first three weeks that it starts to fade. Six weeks in, sometimes sooner, and I’m angrily chunking the marker in the trash, mad that my favorite color is gone. Mad that I spent twenty bucks on that package and we have a man down. Realistically, that marker isn’t made to go forever, but I’m mad that it didn’t. Logical? No. Honest? For sure.
As teachers, keepers of these precious, young souls, we are called to exude love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness and self-control every single day. (Gal. 5:22-23) All of those? Daily? Get real. We want to shout out to God, “But have you seen my classroom?! My responsibilities? My kids?!” And God patiently and calmly replies, “Yes, I have.” And then He says this:
God’s grace. God’s power. And not – hard for us doers to hear – our own. As for us, we use up all of our caffeine-inspired joy before second period. We expend all of our patience on little Lacy. We get overwhelmed by the stack of papers to be graded. And then, exasperated, we angrily throw in the towel because we can’t do it all. Sometimes, we get distracted by the demands and we forget to put the cap back on, metaphorically speaking, of course. If we don’t care for ourselves properly - resting, re-energizing, refocusing our true purpose - we burn out too. All too quickly. And that’s okay. For in our weakness, His power is made perfect. In fact, I would be so bold as to say that He’s glad when our energy and enthusiasm wain. That’s when we finally let Him join us in our work.
When Paul receives the promise that God’s grace and power are his to claim, Paul responds with this:
Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Corinthians 12:9-10)
Point of clarification: Delight in weakness, insults, persecutions doesn’t mean complaining. And it doesn’t mean using them as an excuse. It means own the weakness. Say, “I can’t do this.” We love it when, after watching our student bang his forehead and tap his pencil and wallow in anguish, he finally says, “Can you help me? This is really hard.” When we own the weakness and ask for help, that’s where the real progress begins.
So I encourage you to join me. We can start off this year with 2 Corinthians 12:9-10 as our anchor. When we finally admit that we can’t do it all, we’re on the right track, so we might as well start now. Let's move over. Let's let Him do more. We can’t do it all, but together with Christ, we can do more than we ever imagined. He promises that:
Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to HIS power that is at work within us (Ephesians 3:20).