Life of Faith

Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out! Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counselor? Who has ever given to God, that God should repay him? For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be the glory forever! Amen.
Romans 11: 33-36

I think my main frustration as a teacher is inconsistency. I love those classes where I can tell students are really listening. Listlessness is gone and eyes are on me. What I have to say is followed by perceptive student questions and robust discussion. Students leave those classes with new insights, and perhaps with better questions to ask next time. Their mental universe has been enlarged. I leave such a class hoping I have finally figured out how to be a good teacher. Mistakes of the past are behind me, and I will build on the teaching approach that proved so successful. But the next time nothing is the same. My questions fall flat, and students’ eyes glaze over. The ideas that I thought were so exciting seem banal and uninteresting. I think I want the class to be over even more than the students do.

Inconsistency is a fundamental human trait. One game the basketball player scores thirty points; the next game he (or she) doesn’t score at all. We’re not perfect, and so we never get it quite right, whether we are playing basketball, teaching a class, or carrying out any other human vocation. We humans would do well to accept our limitations.

Why then am I frustrated by my inconsistency as a teacher? Why not accept it as the way life is? I think it is because my sense of self is very much connected with my doing well in the classroom. I want students to think well of me. I want them to be grateful for what they learn in my class. The result is that my teaching becomes a roller coaster ride of elation and regret depending on student responses.

Cornelius Plantinga warns that judging our worth by the quality of our performance is a trap. “It’s the devil’s attack on the grace of God,” he says. God graciously made us in his image, and he daily endows us with strength for our work. When teaching is a joy, it is from God’s hand. When teaching is hard, God’s hand is still upholding us. It really isn’t about us.

God calls us to a life of faith, to attempt to see our stories, with all their inconsistencies, in the context of his larger story. All teachers should be encouraged by this, for from him and through him and for him are all things.

O Lord, replace my anguish with trust when I fail, and my pride with gratitude when I succeed. Give me the grace to see my worth as a gift from you. In Jesus name I ask this. Amen.

Stephen Kaufmann
Covenant College