The Classroom is Always OpenJeanie Hoover
I recently celebrated my 70th birthday, and I’ve been thinking about my life. I realize (almost with a shock) that I have fewer days ahead of me than behind.
Reflecting back I have the image of my life as a classroom. This classroom image gives me a new perspective on things that I usually don’t think twice about, which is in and of itself important – thinking twice, I mean. It is infusing my normal everyday life with a lot more meaning. I think of a classroom as a place of teaching, asking questions, experimenting, observing, and growing. It is a place where we make deductions and draw conclusions; if it’s a good classroom with good teachers, it is a place where we learn how to navigate life. This metaphor has helped me ask some good questions about my approach to things.
For instance, I’ve been investigating the story I tell myself about any situation in which I might feel resistant, irritated, frustrated, out of control, insecure, or less than. These instances often happen without any real awareness on my part, and often, they go unnoticed and unquestioned. I’m only aware of my discomfort but I often don’t question the story around the discomfort.
This happened recently when I received an email from a Christian publisher whose books I own and whose authors I admire very much. They had turned down a book I wrote not once but twice, eventually leading me to self-publish. Seeing all these books by these particular authors in one place, I noticed a sharp pain in my heart. I paused for a minute and noticed how much it hurt to see them all there without me and my book. I felt envious. Then I deleted the email and distracted myself. I didn’t need nor want to go to where this pain was leading.
After the initial surprise and hurt subsided, I came back to those initial feelings, and I tried to identify the thoughts behind them. As I mentioned before, I usually try to stuff my feelings and don’t stop to analyze the thoughts accompanying them. This time I did. I noticed that my first thought was, why were they chosen and not me? Then I noticed other questions like, what is wrong with me? Why am I not good enough? Following that was this accusation and conclusion: You’re never chosen. You are not good enough, nor will you ever be. Wow! Now there are some powerful statements. And if I don’t take the time to address them, they will stay there in my unconscious beliefs, unquestioned and accepted as true, and may even become a self-fulfilling prophecy! The other important question (and maybe the most important question) I need to address is what am I believing about God in this particular situation? If I am honest, I believe God is withholding something good from me. Something I really wanted, and he’s giving it to others but not me. I am wondering whether he likes them more than me.
Later (and notice how this takes some time and intention), I took the questions and statements to my teacher, Jesus. Is this what he believes about me? Does he choose me? Does he feel I’m good enough? And if he chose me and feels I was good enough to die for, then why was my book not chosen by this publisher? I can honestly answer the first two questions with a wholehearted Yes! I believe he has chosen me and his death on the cross convinces me he thinks I am worth it. And is it true that I am never chosen? No, it is not. There are so many ways I’ve been chosen in my life that it is ridiculous when that thought is brought to light. I don’t have a clear answer why this publisher didn’t choose my book, but the thought struck me (is this from God?) that we can’t always judge the quality of something by its popularity. And then, out of the blue, I thought of Vincent van Gough, one of my favorite artists who had very little success in his lifetime and is now considered one of the greatest artists in history. Now I am not saying I am on the level of van Gough, but I am saying that I can’t judge something or someone’s worth by how successful they are in the eyes of the world (or if a publisher didn’t choose their book).
Finally, and most important, what am I believing about God in this situation? Philosopher, theologian, and author Dallas Willard once said, don’t believe anything bad about God. That simple sentence has been a compass for me ever since I heard it, and it is shocking how often I do believe bad things about God. I must constantly get that compass out and recheck my direction. “God is withholding” is a very subtle but often-held belief. If you think about it, it’s how the whole tragic tale of human history’s downfall started. Adam and Eve believed God was withholding while at the same time living in a paradise created specifically for them. How do I do the same thing?
I don’t know why my book wasn’t chosen, but I know it was still a privilege to write, and I learned so much from doing it. And I believe in God’s utter goodness, generosity, and love for me. I really do. That belief has helped me let go of the need to be popular or widely read and trust it will find the audience it was meant for. And there is such freedom in not needing it to be anything else.
I’ve heard the saying that we play for an audience of One. I took my brief experience with the email and made it a classroom. And though circuitous, in the end, I was reminded that God loves those gifts we give him from our hidden closets (see Matthew 6). He sees them, values them, and when we lean into that truth, there is an inner freedom that stops playing to the crowd. The pain I felt when I read that email was replaced with openness and even gratitude for God’s mysterious ways. I was able to lean into the importance of hiddenness and the trust that God has me (and my little book), and I can trust him with both.
“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding (Proverbs 9:10). If this is true, then the moment we turn, invite, and trust God to be our teacher in the classroom of our lives he helps us to see our own stories through a larger lens, and we begin the move toward wisdom. We don’t have to be approaching 70 to start. We can start anytime. The classroom is always open.
If you or someone you know wants to join our TLC classroom, there are still a few open spots in Cohort VI, which starts in early September. Click reply and let me know if you want more information.