For the record, I am not the best math student. By not the best math student I mean that I failed Algebra three times in high school. I know it is an embarrassing and slightly ironic confession coming from a high school English teacher, but it’s true. I was, and still am, broken mathematically. I use my fingers to count, I struggle with fractions, seven times eight will forever give me problems, and square roots still cause me a bit of anxiety.
I remember very vividly retaking and failing Algebra my sophomore year, not only because I sat behind my future husband, who I was secretly in love with, which is an entirely different story; but because it solidified my adolescent belief that math and I would never be friends. You see, I was an honors student with a poor work ethic; all the ability and none of the drive. So there I was, a failure at the one thing I was suppose to be good at. The thing that always came easy, school, was now another testament to my averageness. Yes, I know averageness is not a real word, but you get the point.
Everyday, second hour, in Ms. Erickson’s class, the assignment read something like this: Please turn to page 432 and complete 1-30 odd. Remember to show all your work.
I hated those assignments. In fact, it would take me another year and a half of failure, before I would realize the importance of those assignments and more specifically the value of the words: Show all your work. You see, the practice made permanent the lesson my teacher wanted me to learn. The practice, the work, was the secret to understanding. The assignment had more value than I knew and my participation was vital to my future growth.
Fast forward to senior year, I found myself sitting center stage in a predominately freshmen filled Algebra class. My teacher, Ms. Boykin, was my OBI-WAN, my only hope. Graduation was on the line and Algebra would no longer come between me and my academic success. The sudden sense of urgency pushed me to change and I did every assignment as well as retook every quiz/test I failed. I struggled and grappled with equations and expressions until math and I were not friends, but at least polite acquaintances. I did not accept less than a C on any assignment and I earned a B-, 80% to be precise, in the course. The secret to learning turned out to be thoroughly completing every assignment. To accept the assignment with hope, was to not expect failure. I began to understand that easy was empty, and the work was well worth the cost.
Last week at the CCB Women’s Retreat, the speaker, Debbie Bryson reminded me that I’ve been assigned. You see, God has assigned me certain people in my life, and He has assigned you certain people in your life. Assigned, meaning we didn’t all meet happenstance, but rather that we have been precisely placed by the maker of the universe to know certain people; to live and work in close proximity, to be family, friends, neighbors, coworkers, offspring, siblings, etc. Before the foundations of the Earth, our God saw fit to not only create us, love us, save us; but also to assign us.
The assignment reads something like this: “God saved you by His grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. 9 Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it.10 For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things He planned for us long ago.” Ephesians 2: 8-10
Paul reminds us in his letter to the Ephesians that our works do not save us, but they bring a fullness to the life God planned for us. Unlike my Algebra homework, these assignments are not about passing and failing, but about growing and finding an abundant life in this troubled world that we can never find apart from God and His plan for us. When we as believers submit to the plan God’s made for us, we learn that easy is empty and the lessons are all about accepting the assignments.
Paul himself experienced God’s “good works He planned for us long ago”. Paul, the man who would suffer prison sentences, ship wrecks, snakebites, public humiliation, loneliness, isolation, doubt, loss, and the like; believed all of these trials were nothing in comparison to a life lived for God. You see, these trials allowed for Paul to witness to prison guards and speak before giant crowds; to travel to far off places while writing letters that would reach the world for thousands of years. God’s plan reaches so far past our comfort and our personal gain. As we follow our maker, the practice makes permanent the lesson our teacher wants us to learn. The practice, the work, is the secret to understanding. The assignment has more value than we know and our participation is vital to our future growth.
“Dear brothers and sisters, I close my letter with these last words: Be joyful. Grow to maturity. Encourage each other. Live in harmony and peace. Then the God of love and peace will be with you.” – Paul (2 Corinthians 13:11)