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Faithfully, Perhaps Successfully

On Repentance, Despair, Profit, and the Daily Grind of Teaching

I have found myself, over the years, returning again and again to this quote from George Grant:

“True education is a form of repentance. It is a humble admission that we’ve not read all that we need to read, we don’t know all that we need to know, and we’ve not yet become all that we are called to become. Education is that unique form of discipleship that brings us to the place of admitting our inadequacies.”

As teachers we are the ones who must repent the most, not only because we model repentance in order to teach it but ultimately because teaching brings us face-to-face, over and over again, with our own need for repentance.

We have this responsibility to train up a child in the way he should go, and the farther down that path we go, the more and more we realize we do not go the way we should go. How can we teach when we don’t know? How can we lead our children to repentance when we are in such need of it ourselves?

Despair is the easy answer, the cop out answer. But it is not the right answer. It is easier to give up than to repent, but we are called to repent and continue on. When faced with our inadequacies, we are not allowed to bury ourselves in the ground; we must work and invest and bring a profit.

Working from repentance makes it clear where the profit is coming from. Through repentance we discover we are not the ones bringing forth fruit from these children entrusted to us. All profit, all fruit, is a gift of God.

I remind myself of this often with a Latin phrase: Fortiter fideliter forsan feliciter.

It means “bravely, faithfully, perhaps successfully.”

It’s a reminder that so often the results are not in our hands. We are called to obey faithfully, but God gives the increase – in His time, in His way – and it often doesn’t look like what we expected. We can’t control how things will work out, but we can control whether or not we obey.

Living in repentance is not living in perpetual guilt and woe-is-me introspection; it is faithfulness, it is obedience, it is listening to and believing God rather than ourselves. Repentance is abiding in Christ’s will rather than our own.

Abiding in Christ is our joy and our strength. No, we don’t do so perfectly, but the answer is ever turning away from our sin and toward Christ; that is repentance. That is how we continue on when faced with the temptation to despair and that is how we teach our students to do the same: Yes, the math lesson, writing assignment, Latin conjugation makes you want to give up in frustration. I know that response. But we must continue on this path we have been put on by our good God, trusting He knows what He’s doing even when we don’t.

Repentance is bravely and faithfully changing our attitudes, our perspectives, our actions, whenever we are made aware that they are not aligned with God’s Word, His revealed will. It is hard, but it is life-giving. It is both how we are called to live and how we teach those little eyes always watching us how to live.

School days so often don’t go the way we plan them to, even when our plans are sincerely made for good. Yet we know that nothing comes to us by chance, but from God’s fatherly hand. It is for our good, that we may trust Him more and than our own abilities and skills and arts.

Our job, our calling, is perseverance, not control. God calls us to faith, not to living out a formula that guarantees the outcome we desire. God is weaving a story, and we act our part and trust that the Author will work it out to His praise and glory.

That sounds grand in the big picture vision, but it comes crashing in too close to home when we realize it applies to the toddler calling from the bathroom while we’re in the middle of helping with a math problem and our coffee sits untouched on the counter next to the pile of yesterday’s dishes. It applies to the disruptive student in the classroom, to the interrupted lesson. Those times give us a chance to repent: to bravely, faithfully, put one foot in front of the other and continue in obedience.

The work is ours, but the results are God’s.

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