Just a few days ago two of my housemates discussed over lunch what sort of psychological breakdown I might have. One of them thinks I would ramble incoherently and gesticulate wildly for about ten minutes, then slip into a catatonic state while clutching a cup of tea. The other thinks I would focus all of my concentration on a Legend of Zelda game, emerging from my video game-induced stupor only to sip tea.
I was gratified that both of my housemates recognize my passion for tea, and sincerely hope I never have to find out which of their theories is correct.
The truth is that I felt uncomfortably close to breaking down yesterday. There was never any danger of a genuine psychological breakdown, but I felt more than once as though I’d reached the end of my strength. It’s not a nice feeling.
I’m student teaching at a local high school, teaching two regular classes and assisting in a classroom with at-risk kids. Teaching can be wonderfully fun and rewarding. It can also be terribly exhausting and stressful. I sometimes find myself thinking wistfully of becoming a manuscript editor or pursuing some other career that doesn’t involve classroom management.
I was walking to a classroom today when a familiar quotation came to mind: “I can do everything through him who gives me strength.” That’s dear old Paul, of course. It’s one of those verses from the New Testament I’ve heard so many times that I no longer think about it.
Today, however, I paused and thought about it. Paul lived a stressful life. He faced excruciating hardships: “Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my own countrymen, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false brothers. I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches.”
My student teaching suddenly doesn’t seem so bad.
Paul suffered so much pain and discomfort and stress. What did he have to say for himself?
“I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength.”
Paul is writing about the Lord Jesus, of course.
It finally hit me today that I’ve been trying to do this thing on my own. I’ve been worrying about how I must survive the next six weeks and how I must teach these kids and how I must show them God’s love.
I don’t have to worry about the weeks and months and years ahead. I’m not alone. There is a secret to being content in any and every situation: I can do everything through Christ who gives me strength. It’s not some sort of trite religious propaganda or esoteric spiritual mystery. I need to stop trying to handle everything on my own, and trust that God will help me when I can’t help myself.
That’s an obvious lesson, right? The problem with obvious lessons is that they’re so easy to forget.
The Lord told Joshua, “Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go.”
It’s just as true for me today.
Do you know what else? It’s just as true for you today.