Thursday, May 02, 2019

Anonymous Asks Again

“For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.”

You asked, “Why does school suck?”

Yep, It Does

When I was young, there was a pop song called Kodachrome that began with the words, “When I think back on all the crap I learned in high school / It’s a wonder I can think at all.” I think a lot of people feel like that: when they think about what their teachers forced them to learn, they can’t imagine what the real purpose of it all was. I was like that. In fact, I eventually dropped out, though I did go back later.

So I get your point.

That being said, I can now say that I’ve spent more time in schools than most people ever will in ten lifetimes. I know the current situation better than maybe you can imagine. I’ll freely admit that much of what goes on in school — whether public school, high school, or even colleges and universities — is not fun. Learning is hard. Learning takes us away from things we like, from things we want to do, and makes us accept things that make us feel strained, or overloaded, or overwhelmed, or even humiliated. Who would want that? And why does this world make us go and do things that are so often miserable and burdensome?

The verse above gives us an important piece of the puzzle.

What the Bible Says

Of course, Hebrews is talking about spiritual discipline, and not just the hard work of learning the word of God for yourself or learning how to pray diligently, but the even harder discipline of accepting the circumstances into which the Lord brings you.

One of those situations is school.

Notice that Hebrews also says, “all discipline”. This isn’t just a claim about spiritual discipline, but about every kind of learning that comes by means of having to deny yourself immediate pleasures and preferences. Learning costs. Ultimately, however, not learning costs a lot more.

And this is a hugely important principle for us all to understand. We live in a modern world that provides instantly whatever we demand — food when we want it, entertainment 24 hours a day, friends online every minute, games for every occasion, and when we don’t have what we want, we can buy it instantly and have it shipped to the front door by express. What this trains us all to think is that good stuff comes easily … and that if something we’re going through isn’t fun, it’s because it’s bad. We’re taught to believe anything can be fun, even things like school. So when it’s not — when it feels like a hardship or discipline to be there, we think it’s failing us and wasting our time. School always “sucks” because it isn’t nearly as much fun as other things we could be doing.

Easy Living

What our society teaches us is foolish, though. It appeals to our flesh, but it’s based on a falsehood. Things that are easy and fun are often not good; and things that are hard can often be rewarding, if we stick with them and take the right attitude.

I know that sounds like an “old guy” perspective. And with good reason — it is. Little children cannot put off their pleasures, even for a moment. Very early, they learn to cry out, “Mine, mine!” or to explode into angry tears the minute the world doesn’t give them what they want. There is probably no bigger sign of maturity than this: the ability to put off one’s immediate pleasures in order to achieve something higher. That’s the thing that adults get good at, but immature people can’t stand.

Adults are capable of recognizing when there’s something ahead that they can only have by disciplining themselves to a task now. They don’t go to work because work is fun — at least, not every day. They go because it provides for their family, but only if they do it for twenty or thirty years. They save loads of money that they could spend on cool stuff right now, so that they can have money for retirement, because they are able to see that retirement will be necessary. They go through pregnancies that force them to blow up to huge size and feel rotten, so that they can have the joy of having children — and they know those children will eat up their resources, demand all their attention, and require caretaking forever. But they do it to have the joy of you.

It’s not by accident that your friends spend all their money instantly. They don’t have to discipline themselves to save for the future. So it’s a lot easier, at least on the surface, to be young. But there’s also a reason adults have a house, a car, control of their own finances, greater freedom of choice and even responsibility for children, and your friends don’t: adults can handle the discipline that it takes to put off being happy in the present moment, so as to get something greater later. Children haven’t yet learned how to do that.

Slacking in Spiritual Life

But what’s true in practical things is doubly true in spiritual things. If we are not prepared to spend time in the word of God every day, we will not have a spiritual life of our own. We just won’t. If we don’t pray all the time, we will never see answers to prayer, and learn that God is faithful to us personally. We just won’t. If we don’t make efforts to learn the truth of good theology, we will remain spiritually shallow. If we will not put ourselves out to practice obedient service to others, we will never learn how to serve with patience and unselfishness. And if we do not learn these things, we will never become the kind of person who deserves a partner that has these qualities: we’ll only deserve a person as shallow, childish and undisciplined as we are. And from that, we’ll get the life we deserve.

Getting good things takes discipline. And when you’re starting out to do them, all of them seem like a grind, like a burden, like a hardship. It’s actually the grind that makes the difference, though. The hardness of the obedience changes our character and transforms us into new kinds of people. Having things easy does not do that at all. When things are easy, we stay the same. But the Lord does not want us to stay the same: his plan is that we present ourselves to him, and are made over into new and much better people. This happens through disciplines which God himself brings into our lives because he loves us and treats us like sons who need to be raised right. If we are without that, we’re not real “sons”, he says. So that’s serious stuff.

Back to School

Look, school’s not fun. You’re right. And I’m not going to tell you that much of what it’s teaching you is, in and of itself, going to prove its worth to you. Some of it will be a bit of a waste of time. And truth be told, you won’t use half of what you learn in school in later life. But half you will. And we don’t know which half that will be yet.

But school is hard because learning is hard. You see, there are actually little “wires” inside your brain called dendrites. And these little wires have to be hooked up in new ways before your brain can learn a new thing. It actually feels uncomfortable in the brain to fight with an idea while your dendrites try to make a path so you can understand. That’s why we all have that feeling of, “I don’t get it … I can’t do this … this is stupid … this ‘sucks’,” before we suddenly go, “Wait! I get it! Now I see!” That’s how learning works: it actually requires physiological and chemical changes in the brain, and this gives us brain-growing pains. So we’re hurting, and we’re frustrated, but we’re also learning at the same time.

All learning is hard. The Bible says that. We need to believe it, and mature into looking beyond the immediate opportunity for fun, to the goal that’s at the end of the process. And when we do that, we get more out of life and become better people for it.

School for the Lord

Now, the Lord has allowed you to be in a school. It might be a Christian school, a secular school, a home school, or whatever. It doesn’t matter. Some things will be fun, but many will just be hard. The first discipline you need to accept is that wherever you are, you’re there because God put you there.

There are opportunities you can take, if you will take them. I don’t mean all the stuff the teachers teach you, necessarily; that’s at most only part of it. But there are people you meet there that you would never otherwise meet. There are opportunities to serve you would never have if you were not in a crowd. There are chances for witness you will not get in later life. There are occasions to show mercy to people others are ignoring, or to make friends you will value later in life, and also situations in which you will face obstacles that will challenge you to grow. All this is surplus to the value you might get from learning to speak well, write, handle your accounts and affairs, acquire new skills, and learn new information, assuming your school offers such things. It certainly should.

So you can go two ways with this: one is to say, “School sucks, and I’m going to fight it to the death.” Really, that won’t get you much. The other is to say, “School’s hard and frustrating to me, for a bunch of reasons; but I’m going to figure out how to turn this into opportunities to serve the Lord and become the kind of person he wants me to be.”

Lord, Your Will Be Done

There are things you can learn if you’re willing to bow to the disciplines. And there are ways to shine for the Lord by managing the situation well. We need to stop seeing the situation as the enemy. It’s an opportunity the Lord has entrusted to you: what will you do with it? Will you complain and resist? Will you just ride it out as best you can? Or will you commit yourself to the Lord and say, “For whatever I’m here, Lord, make me fit to take on the challenge you put before me, and to benefit from the disciplines into which you are taking me; make me a better person, the person you want me to be.” That’s what we need to do every day, if we want to conquer the school situation in the Lord’s name.

And when it hurts, and when it frustrates, we need to say, “Lord, you put me here; make me the kind of person who can benefit from this discipline.” Then we do our best, and we see what the Lord will do.

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