I am a full-time teacher this year. I’m in the big leagues (whatever those are.) I love my students and I love what I get to teach but since getting back from chaperoning the Italy trip a couple of weeks ago, my workload seems to have expanded into a mountain. I’ve been behind, behind, behind in grading, but I’ve been trying to set myself reasonable schedules and make it through and be what I need to be. My biggest fear is to be found inadequate for the task.
I’ve been wearing out, though. Yesterday evening my anxiety levels gradually rose and rose and rose. I decided not to attempt any grading, but instead to rest and pray. I took a hot bath and thought about failure. I wondered if it would be okay if I failed, if I didn’t get the tests graded by Monday and if I didn’t meet the deadline for novel pages. I thought about how the cheery world says that everyone fails, and that failure represents effort which, if you stick with it, is the path to eventual success. Then I reminded myself that the Gospel also says that everyone fails. But it says failure represents brokenness which, if we are willing to take it, is the path to abundant grace.
To remind myself of that abundant grace despite my failure I read a prayer from the Valley of Vision, called “Shortcomings.”
O LIVING GOD,
I bless thee
that I see the worst of my heart as well as
the best of it,
that I can sorrow for those sins that carry me
that it is thy deep and dear mercy to threaten
punishment so that I may return, pray, live.
My sin is to look on my faults and be discouraged,
or to look on my good and be puffed up.
I fall short of thy glory every day by spending
by thinking that the things I do are good,
when they are not done to thy end,
nor spring from the rules of thy Word.
My sin is to fear what never will be;
I forget to submit to thy will, and fail to be
But Scripture teaches me that thy active will
reveals a steadfast purpose on my behalf,
and this quietens my soul,
and makes me love thee.
Keep me always in the understanding
that saints mourn more for sin than other men,
for when they see how great is thy wrath
and how Christ’s death alone pacifies that wrath,
that makes them mourn the more.
Help me to see that although I am in the wilderness
it is not all briars and barrenness.
I have bread from heaven, streams from the rock,
light by day, fire by night,
thy dwelling place and thy mercy seat.
I am sometimes discouraged by the way,
but though winding and trying it is safe
Death dismays me, but my great high priest
stands in its waters,
and will open me a passage,
and beyond is a better country.
While I live let my life be exemplary,
When I die may my end be peace.
Then I went to bed, still tense. I knew that God would give me his grace and his grace would be oh so good, but I knew that it might not be success. It would probably humble me and certainly change me. I didn’t sleep much.
Then this morning I got up, still feeling shaky, and walked out the door without eating breakfast because we didn’t have much in the apartment. I would push through.
It was a good morning. My students were sweet. I graded freshman journals, taught about early innovations in communication and transportation, and pushed through my exhaustion. Then in the middle of third hour my head started to get really hot. I think we were talking about Guglielmo Marconi and the radio, and I turned to my juniors and said something like, “You guys take a break. I need to go to the bathroom. I don’t feel well.” Then I walked into the hallway and blacked out.
So God’s grace to me today involved lying half in the fetal position on the floor of the staff bathroom on a shag rug (which I’ve always liked to poke fun at but which I was suddenly profoundly grateful for,) while two coworkers and my boss stood over me watching me alternately hyperventilate and attempt to eat a spoonful of peanut butter to raise my blood sugar. I have rarely been so spectacularly inadequate.
For the last several months I have thought a lot about being like Martha’s sister Mary, choosing the good part and settling my heart at Christ’s feet. And for the past several months I have been terrible at it. I have prayed again and again that God would show me the foot of the cross, so I might dwell there. Well, I found it today. But I didn’t know that it would look so familiar. And that it would have a shag rug.