Sunday, May 8, 2011

A Rare Sunday Post: Finding My Own "I am" Amid the Struggles of Life

I wrote something yesterday to a friend who is struggling with some things - especially the paradox between wanting to be fed at church and the desire to help feed others when he isn't feeling fed himself.

I normally don't write Sunday posts, but the thought came to me that I should post what I wrote to my friend - and that I should do so today. I hope that was a legitimate prompting - that it helps someone, somehow who might not have read it if I had posted it on a different day.

Here it is, edited slightly to be appropriate for a public forum:
I think you are struggling with one of the central paradoxes of the Gospel that Jesus of Nazareth preached - that to find one's self, what someone thinks of as "self" has to be lost first.

Most people never understand that paradox fully in this life, and I am one of those most people when it comes to understanding it "fully" - but I've been unable to "find my own true self" by attending Church for so long that I gave up trying a long, long time ago. Instead, I focused in church on helping others find themselves.

Yes, my personality lends itself to that, but my experiences also helped me understand a little better how wonderful it can be to lose myself within a group. 

I want to share a story here that might or might not help, but it came to me as I read your message, so I hope it is inspiration.

Long story short, I had finished most of 11th Grade math by the time I left 7th Grade, but my rural junior and senior high schools had no idea what to do with someone in that situation - so I repeated 3 1/2 years of math until my class reached in 11th Grade where I had been individually in 7th Grade. One of the reasons I came to accept and appreciate that situation is that in 8th Grade I had a math teacher who couldn't teach. He knew the math, but he just wasn't a good teacher.

I had two choices: pout or teach. 

I chose to teach - and I found my life's love of teaching. I did about four weeks' worth of homework in one night, then, when the teacher finished introducing the material to the class and went back to his office, I got up, actually taught the concept in a way that the other students could understand and walked around the class helping individuals with the problems that were stumping them. I was, in practical terms, the teacher of that class. I literally, in a very real and powerful way, came to understand the joy and wonder that can occur when we put aside what we want individually (what we deserve and what "should" happen) and focus on helping others who aren't where we are get to where we are - or to where we are going. 

I understand individual personalities and that it was easier for me "naturally" to have that outcome than it would have been for others - but . . . 

Looking back on that year, I wouldn't trade it for the world. I learned something important about myself and what I perceive to be an important principle - and what I want to focus on for the purpose of this conversation is that I learned it through an experience that absolutely sucked in every objective way imaginable (for lack of a more genteel way to say it). It shouldn't have happened; the educators in those schools should have been more aware of me and my needs and done SOMETHING to help me; they had a professional commission and duty to do so; they shouldn't have "kicked me off of" the educational track I was on when I arrived; they failed miserably in fulfilling that commission. 

I'm so glad they did. In fact, I think I'll be grateful eternally that they did. 

I'm not saying that such an experience is right for everyone, and I'm not saying it's OK for people to screw up big time in the performance of their responsibilities, and I'm not saying anyone else should (or could) have had my own experience in that situation - but I am saying there is a power in many Gospel paradoxes that is impossible to grasp until we're involved in a searing, unfair, difficult struggle that forces us to weigh competing ideals and discover there often is a balance hidden somewhere in the struggle - a balance that is personal and individual and intimate and enlightening in our own efforts to find our own "I am".


Matthew said...

"I learned it through an experience that absolutely sucked in every objective way imaginable"

Pretty much my experience too. Several times. And like you, Ray, I wouldn't trade it for anything. I have learned so much from my trials, it often amazes me.

Anonymous said...

Of he unto much is given,much is required.

This has been fairly much a feature of the school system in which my children grew up,and seen as an educational tool enabling the more able to consolidate.Personally,I loved the fact that my kids had to grow up learning this principal,and they have lived up to it,making a contribution to the needs of their world community.

It's so important for you to post on these issues Ray,we need to question our perception of success.Nobody wins unless everybody wins.