Teaching Through Trials
"I hate school!" my daughter, Janelle, cried. I could relate. After all, it was seventh grade an awkward time for most kids. But the reality was, she didn't hate school. Janelle was an avid learner; she loved the challenge. What she didn't love was the seventh-grade math teacher who seemed to hate her.
Apparently, that teacher had it out for Janelle - requiring her to do problems over and over with no help and no explanation, even mocking her when she didn't understand something. Unfortunately, math was Janelle's toughest subject, and the rest of the class didn't struggle as she did.
From an early age, Janelle was passionate about her faith. So together we searched Scripture and tried to look at this injustice as a test, one that could develop perseverance and ultimately mature her as a Christian (James 1:3). Through lots of mom-daughter talks and some heartfelt prayer, she chose to stick it out and to learn from her year in seventh-grade math class.
I was proud of her, but Janelle's path wasn't easy. In fact, it was sometimes harder for me than for her. My heart ached while she plodded on and on, struggling to figure it out. And though I helped her as I could, this was her test.
One morning at breakfast, Janelle said, "You know, Mom, I'm finally getting some of this math stuff. I've been reading 2 Peter, and it says that I should add knowledge and perseverance to my faith. In math class, that's not easy, but I'm trying." She was learning some important lessons, ones that could carry her far beyond pre-algebra.
Rejoice in Suffering?
Shortly after this, however, Janelle came home in tears with a D on her test, which the teacher had pointed out to the entire class. I was heartbroken, not because of the grade, but because Janelle was trying so hard. In the midst of her pain, how could I teach this seventh-grader that "suffering produces perseverance" (Romans 5:3)?
In that suffering, we decided to pray not only for the situation but also for this teacher. Sometimes we implored the Lord to bring justice or success; other times we simply gave thanks that He was in the middle of it. We both learned to trust that He is bigger than a math grade.
Hope and Character
All year long I encouraged Janelle that this trial wouldn't last forever, even though it seemed like the longest year of her life. I also continually reminded her that both God and I were pleased at her taking the high road, doing her best and persevering through difficulty.
The teacher never did warm to Janelle, and we'll never know why. But Janelle learned a lot of hard, valuable truths - that injustice is not always righted in this lifetime, that developing perseverance is painful but well worth the effort.
Less than two years later, she needed that very strength when her father split up the family. He even blamed her for the breakup, plunging her into a season that, if she hadn't learned to persevere, might have changed her into a bitter, rebellious teenager. Instead, she turned again to Scripture and prayer. Though this painful trial lasted much longer than a year of math class, Janelle learned to endure. Her ensuing maturity developed her into a strong believer who is now a missionary to South Africa.