A few winters ago, a nasty bug went through our entire family. And while no one likes to be sick, it was much worse to have a sick toddler. While our son was recovering, I was faced with many tough moments. Besides the standard clearing of the eye gook (that’s the technical, medical term) there was a lot of nose wiping and medicine taking. And while all of these actions were met with his frail pleas of, nothing got him upset quite like the eye drops. He learned quickly what the little white container meant, and his protests came quicker with each application (3 times a day, twice in each eye).
Each time I administered the drops, I tried my best to sooth him, to explain he would get better and that the medicine was good for him. He did not understand. He struggled with his 20 month-old arms and squirmed his head and screamed. Every time it tortured me to administer the drops though I knew it was best for him, having to pin him down again and again, day after day. I knew that it was the best way, and yet it was hard to see him so sad, crying for “Mama”, and looking to escape.
And then I thought about the way our Father works on me. If I take seriously how He desires wholeness and health for me, the very greatest of godliness and holiness, then there’s lots of medicine needed for a guy like me. I wander astray from my shepherd, and force him to bring me back to the fold. I play the prodigal again and again. I would sell the family farm and run away to the swine. My sickness is profound and is in need of the great Healer; yet I struggle with him, pushing him away.
There are also the times when I haven’t done “wrong”, when I haven’t necessarily “sinned”, but am still experiencing pain. When I am yearning for something better or longing to stop the hurting in this life. When I am disappointed by a co-worker, a friend, my spouse, my children, my students, or perhaps more often, in and by myself, I cry out in pain.
I think this is some of what Paul had in mind when he wrote in Romans 8 that, “We ourselves…groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies.” We yearn for the Garden, but hurt while we live as pilgrims in exile. We are not perfect but we were created by God to be his perfect children, and we feel that tension.
How does God treat us during these times of pain? If I take seriously the metaphor of God as a loving Father to me, then how should I consider my own sickness and struggles, my own yearning and hurting? How do I rightly think about life when I can’t see his Goodness, when I can’t see how he is working, but feel that groaning, that longing for something better than what I know?
First of all, I’m absolutely amazed that he is slow to anger; that he is patient, and abounding in grace. He runs out to accept me, though I so often choose pigs over his plans. He patiently trains and re-trains me to look forward to “the glory about to revealed to us.” (Rom. 8:18) He teaches me to train my eyes on Him as the perfect model worthy of imitation.
Second, I have learned to trust that my heavenly Father sees me and my life in his eternal perspective. He wants for me the long-term Healing, the greatest Good. Even if that means struggles now – sickness, weakness, failing, sorrow, and even depression – he knows what I need. As his children, he takes very seriously the idea of what is Good for us in the truest, deepest, and eternal sense. And that Good often means suffering. It means taking up the cross and following him, the Author and Perfecter of our faith, to the place of pain.
It means dying to ourselves. It means patience, long-suffering with eyes to the goal.
James’s teaching is worth quoting: “My brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of any kind, consider it nothing but joy, because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance; and let endurance have its full effect, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking in nothing.” (1:2-4)
Paul says similarly, “We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.” (Rom. 8:28) Both James and Paul highlight the fact that struggles and trials must be understood in the light of the larger picture.
What might this mean as a teacher? How do I love my students like God loves me? As a teacher of Latin, I see a lot of “pain” in my classroom. Students have to learn vocabulary, declensions, how to form tenses, how to parse, and so on. What misery! What labor! As a basketball coach, my players experience “pain” as well. They have to run suicides, work on dribbling, boxing out, moving on defense, shuffling their feet, taking charges, and even deal with losing games. As a musician and tutor, my students have to practice scales, rhythm, chords, strumming, the catalog of songs, and building up the calluses on their fingers. These things are painful. They take time, energy, determination, perseverance, and focus. At times they – and I – can be tempted to let something slide. Do I really need them to memorize all those words? Do I need them to run so much? Do I need them to practice their scales? Yes. Because I love them.
If I am called to the great responsibility of teaching, then I must have the same perspective as my heavenly father: their long term Good. I must ask, “What will bring about the best for them? What will help them for life?” And here I have to think of training them in virtue. This means training them to work hard, to learn patterns, to love their teammates, to pay careful attention to detail, to learn to play through pain, to be in control of themselves, to think deeply and evaluate themselves and the world around them. This kind of training sometimes means a lot of pain and boredom and they will not always understanding the purpose of every exercise. But in that moment, as teachers, administrators, and parents, we must have vision and see the goal.
It would be foolish to expect our students to desire training, especially if they have struggled in the past. Students who find math or grammar challenging do not wish to spend more time there. As teachers we are tempted to skip that day’s dose of healing. If we would be truly Christian schools, however, we must hold fast to the vision of who we desire our students to become, lest we fail to administer the medicine they need due to the pain of the moment.