What do you do when things get tough?
How do you respond when you’ve given your all, committed to the cause, yet experience no return?
I suspect this is something many of us feel almost on a daily basis. It may be at the office you’ve worked at for almost a decade yet barely anyone knows your name. It may be at school when you try your best, study while others are having fun, yet you just don’t get the marks you think you deserve. It may be in a relationship where you’ve sacrificed everything only to realise that your partner doesn’t even recognise your efforts.
How do you respond during these testing times?
1. Challenges Are Relative, Therefore They are Equally Important
Challenges and difficulties are often relative to an individual’s life stage and situation. A five year old may think that algebra is difficult while a fifth grader may simply blitz it. A corporate grad (short for university graduate) may think that applying for this new job is going to be the biggest thing in his/her life while an experienced worker may think ‘you fool, this is only the beginning’.
Regardless of circumstances, challenges are real in peoples lives, and just because we think certain things aren’t difficult doesn’t mean that they aren’t difficult for those currently experiencing them.
Therefore, we need to recognize that while everyone may experience and perceive different things to be ‘challenging’, they are all equally valid and equally important. It would be a mistake to think and say ‘oh that’s nothing. You should try walk in my shoes. Then you’ll know what’s a hard life’. Someone else could say the same thing to you.
Hence, I believe that everyone experiences and perceives challenges differently, and they are all equally important.
2. One Of My Challenges
One of my challenges for the year has been teaching scripture at a local public school.
As a trained high school teacher, I walked into the year 3-4 classroom on Day 1 with a fair bit of confidence. I knew my education methodologies and cognitive psychology, so I wrote a structured lesson plan with 7 minute sections with activities ranging from games, quizzes, and clozed passage work sheets. That day went particularly well. However, this wellness was short lived.
Weeks went by and I felt like I was losing one kid’s attention per week. I did the math and realised that if I worked hard enough, I would only lose half the class’ attention by the end of the semester (I had a class of approximately 20 students). By then, the semester would restart and I would begin with 20 again.
I’m sure you can guess that this wasn’t a satisfying situation.
There was a particular corner in the classroom where all the boys sat, and they were the biggest challenge. All you had to do was blink once and one kid would be crouching behind you waiting for you to step back so you’d trip, while the rest began fighting over seating rights. You’d walk up to the boys to ask them to keep quiet and pay attention only to find that the girls have begun playing with each others hair.
Before you know it, the precious 30 minutes a week that I had to impart Christian Hedonism was lost.
3. My Resolution
I knew this wasn’t sustainable. I was not content with just ‘getting by’ every week. Despite the difficult teaching curriculum, limited time, and crazy kids, I genuinely loved the students and wanted them to know the depth of God’s love for them.
I wanted this limited weekly 30 minutes to mean something for them, and I’d hate my students to be one of those whom you ask ‘so what did you do during Scripture?’ to which they respond ‘oh nothing, we just stuffed around a lot’. I remember someone once said tongue-in-cheek ‘Oh Scripture at school? You mean arts and craft time?’
So I resolved to make sure that they learnt just one thing every week. Just one thing, anything, something.
Despite my resolution, teaching didn’t get any easier. Students were still rowdy, boys were still fighting to sit next to each other, and we were still learning about the different kings in the Old Testament who in the words of my students: ‘all have the same name’.
But I believed that God had placed all of us in the room for a purpose. I knew that God was shaping me, their classroom teacher, and each of the 20 kids in a unique way, and I’d be missing out on that purpose if I settled for surviving rather than thriving.
Hence every week, I got more and more creative. I figured out what got the kids ticking and used those things to help them learn. For some reason, my class really enjoyed crosswords, find-the-words, drawing, and volunteering in front of the whole class. So I used all of that.
Don’t get me wrong, classes were still extremely difficult, but I saw the entire situation in a different light.
4. End Result
Scripture for 2014 ended just a little under 3 weeks ago.
During our final class together, I invited the students to creatively express the things that they’ve learnt during the year.
I was really proud of some of the things they wrote and drew. Work sheets ranged from statements like ‘God made everything (like sheep and apples)’ to ‘Jesus is our Shepherd and Lord forever’. A kid drew a figure of what I make out to be Jesus, with a symbol on his chest that spells SJ (Super Jesus). Another wrote that ‘Jesus died on a cross to save our sins. He cares for us, helps us, loves us, listens to us, and saves us’.
As you can probably imagine, it was absolutely thrilling to see that the one big idea they got out of the whole year was an understanding that because Jesus loves and saved them, therefore He cares for their every need.
It was mighty encouraging and fulfilling.
However, the encouragement didn’t stop there. I believe that the more hard work you put into something, the more satisfaction you’ll get out of it.
As I walked around at the end of class to collect each students’ page summary, I came across the what has become known as the ‘trouble table’. You know, the one with the crazy boys. To be completely honest, I didn’t expect much from them. Yet I think they were the ones who surprised me the most.
In addition to noting down what they’ve learnt, these boys surprisingly wrote me personal messages. One boy wrote: ‘Mr Ku! I hope you don’t leave but you need to leave so me and my friend will miss you so much that one will cry and that is me’
I was really touched to see that these boys had been impacted by the limited time we had together each week and that the greatest source of difficulty in the classroom was the group that was influenced the most. Although they seemed like the most inattentive students in the whole class, something about that class affected them.
5. What About You?
Perhaps you’ve experienced something similar (perhaps to a lesser or greater deal) this year. You’ve worked hard at something not knowing whether there would be any impact at all. You’ve poured in everything you can not knowing if anyone will ever realise.
Believe that everything done for God, whether in a church or outside of it, will never be forgotten. God sees everything that we do and is pleased when He sees us working faithfully and diligently.
You may see the fruits of your labor this year, maybe the next, maybe in a decade. But know that God is a faithful God who never forgets. He knows our every move, our every sweat, our every tear, and is pleased when we’ve used our God-given gifts for His glory.
I had no idea what kind of impact my lesson plans would have on my students. But without a doubt, God was working in and through every word spoken and every activity done.
6. Concluding Remarks
I’m really grateful for the opportunity that I’ve had to teach Scripture this year. It has given me a tremendous opportunity to interact with young kids and to hear their stories. Many of these kids come from broken families with disrupted childhoods, and it was really painful seeing many of them hurting. Earlier in the year, there was a case where a particular child was removed from her family because of parental negligence, and it was particularly painful to see her work through that each week. Her teacher told me that she was surprised that the girl looked forward to attending Scripture every week because she doesn’t show the same kind of enthusiasm for other classes. Sometimes she would run out of class halfway because she was too emotional, or sometimes she would just breakdown in class. However that never happened in my class, and the teacher commented that it is probably because she feels safe in Scripture.
That blew me away because I knew that there was something supernatural happening in that room. Boys arguing about who gets to sit next to each other and girls debating who’s best friend with who is not what I’d classify as ‘safe’. But clearly there was something in that room that attracted this particular girl, and it was nothing that I’ve did or anything that the students have done.
God was working, and I pray that He will continue to do that in that girls life and the many others whom I spent time with in that room.
Thank you all for supporting me in my ministry thus far. Please know that every week it is not I alone who stands before this class, but I stand as a representative of your generous gospel partnership. Your financial giving has enabled me to do what I do, and for that I am incredibly grateful.