Wednesday, July 18, 2007

You got to pray.

If you teach half as well as you pray, you'll be just fine-- Glenda Doster

I was sitting on the porch at Salem Campground the other night, talking with one of those teachers considered to be "epic" here in our community. Mrs. Doster's son has been known to get out of tickets because a police officer realized that he was talking to his life-long favorite teacher's son. She is a beautiful woman, inside and out, with that long, slow Southern accent that seems to be fading away among Southerners. It's the accent of Steel Magnolias and Driving Miss Daisy, William Faulkner and my grandmothers. When a person with that accent (Shelby Foote, for example) tells you something, the accent alone seems to make it profound.

But this went beyond Mrs. Doster's accent.That old girl is smart as a whip and one of the most successful teachers I've ever met. I need to strongly regard what worked for her. It took a second for it to sink in, and then I realized it was one of the single best pieces of advise I have ever gotten (besides "never lean into your car with your back to the parking lot in downtown Atlanta near the Greyhound bus station." That's life-saving advise). And you can insert anything into that sentence: If you ______________ half as well as you pray, you'll be just fine. If you parent half as well as you pray, study half as well, lead half as well....

Because the one who fires our abilities is God. I keep coming back to that over the years. As a natural skeptic, I have always struggled with the incredible amount of responsibility people put on God to do their jobs for them-- know what I mean? Hear me when I say this: I don't mean that we are called to work outside of His anointing and His power. Indeed, we are called to lean not on our own understanding...and in all our ways acknowledge Him and He will make our way straight. Yes, we are desperate for the anointing of the Lord. The thing I struggled with was hearing people just sort of sit back and blame God if things failed.

A few posts back, I mentioned my friend Billy. Billy and I went to high school together-- he was brilliant, valedictorian of his class, went on to medical school at Tulane and Emory, and was one of the kindest, most generous men I have ever known (he passed away about 9 years ago now). We didn't know each other while at Rockdale-- he was older than me, and I was friends with his little brother, but several years later, once I had given my life to the Lord and was in full-time missions, we found each other through a mutual friend and would spend hours talking about God at the Waffle House. Very important conversations happened at that Waffle House.

Billy was a genius and struggled with his mind. He vascillated between believing in God and being incredibly pissed off with Him-- much of it related, I suspect, to his homosexuality and related experiences with the church and other Christians-- but much of it had to do with the flaky Christians he had known who said one thing and lived quite another. Church on Sunday morning, high as a kite on Friday night. I was one of those for a long time-- I always held a sort of soft spot in my heart for the flakes. I knew they weren't at incredible peace with the way they were living their lives-- they weren't any happier than I had been-- and the last thing they needed was one more person looking down their noses at them, the way we believers so often do toward people we disapprove of. We're not the nicest lot of folks sometimes. We forget that we've been there-- we forget that we are still made of the same clay. That some of us have managed to bury our ugly parts under good works or Biblical knowledge. Meanwhile, we reject hurting and needy people with our attitudes.

Where was I? Oh, so Billy. One day, we were talking on the phone and he asked me, "So Sam-- here's a for instance: If you make an A on a test, do you thank Jesus?" Of course, I replied. I'd absolutely breathe a prayer of thanks. "And if you make an F? What then? Was it His fault? Do you blame Him?" I told him that no, that F meant that I didn't study like I should have. Billy liked that answer. Maybe because it was earthbound in so many ways. Maybe because Billy was already considering those weighty things doctors have to think about: the power of a person's life or death in their hands and decisions. Who do you depend on? Who do you blame?

For me, I've spent the last few years training for the upcoming season and I feel like a bride with cold feet. At orientation today, we discussed breech of contract in our ethics session and I had to laugh. I'm imagining how many friends I would keep if I just up and tried to get out of my contract today... But I'm only kidding-- of course I'd never do it-- I know that this season is going to be fantastic and I'm so fortunate that I get to spend my days with teenagers. I've worked for a long time to get to do it. Who would do anything else?

But I've got to pray. I have to depend upon Him in this, more than I have in a long time. He has walked with me all of these years-- I would spend entire commutes praying on my way up to Agnes Scott over the last years, and I know that my success as a student has everything to do with my dependence upon the Lord. For Samantha, there was never an option. If I can teach half as well as I pray-- if I spend as much time investing in my relationship with the Lord, praying for my students, over my choice of teaching methods and literature and discipline, as I do preparing to teach, it's going to be alright.


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