I went running with my roommate this afternoon. To anyone who knows me, this probably seems like a harmless statement—I love running. To anyone who knows my roommate, I must sound like I’m incredibly in shape—my roommate is a former national track star. Unfortunately, although the former statement is true, it has been years since I’ve run seriously, and even then I was no star, so the latter is far, far from true. I was in pain.
I’ve been running with her a few times before, and each time I’ve eventually petered out on the final stretch home. She’s gracious and encouraging, but I’m in pathetic shape, which compounded with the chilly weather and rolling hills of Kentucky was definitely getting the best of me today.
Yesterday, though, I had it out with one of my students. “My brain hurts, I can’t do this…” he was whining. Excellent choice of wording—I couldn’t resist.
“Oh really? What are you doing this afternoon?” I asked him.
“Working out, so I can’t come in,” he immediately responed.
“Which muscles are you working out?
“Uh… my arms today, for wrestling.”
“Awesome, so while you’re in my class, you’re working out too. You’re working out your brain for your entire future.”
Here, I must interject that my students do, in fact, know that their brain is not a muscle. However, I will also say that this particular student immediately got to work and focused the rest of the class period. His friend, however, was not convinced.
“But my brain hurts too much! I can’t focus!” Right. I’ve heard that one before.
“And what is pain?”
“You said you want to join the military right after high school. What is pain?”
“…weakness leaving the body?”
Yes, my friends, life is pain, and anyone who tells you otherwise is selling something. But even when pain comes in the form of feeling completely overwhelmed and underqualified, maybe it’s not always a bad thing, and that’s been a long road to accept. As I’ve thought through why I’ve been so miserable teaching, I’ve realized that a lot of it has to do with the fact that I have just been miserably unhappy with myself for being, well, unhappy, angry, stressed, unkind, unpleasant.. you name it. I’ve always believed that joy has nothing to do with circumstances, and a year ago, I would never have believed that anyone could take it from me… but for the last six months, I was fairly certain that someone had, and was somewhat terrified that I’d never be able to find it again. Then over Christmas break, my sister was reading a children’s version of one of my favorite allegories, wherein a pilgrim’s (whatever the proper words for that) helpers were Sorrow and Suffering. As she journeyed, she slowly had to learn to take their hands and let them guide her. Cheesy? Perhaps. But also, perhaps, true.
Needless to say, I finished the run today. I had an excellent cheerleader running by me, I set those 20-foot goals that keep you going 20 more feet, and yes, I even told myself that I probably wasn’t going to get any more out of breath than I already was—all those things that have kept me going my first semester teaching. But I’m also one step closer to being like the Kentucky trees I admire so much—those trees that grow sideways out of pure rock walls along the road: inch by inch, I don’t understand how, they grow. I want to do that.
“But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.”
May my weakness leave my body, but my strength not be my own.
I think that’s all today, folks.