Then I read this article by Lee Strobel. And I was reminded that for many, the evidence isn't what they're worried about. For me, it was. But for many, the question is perhaps even more basic than that. The question for many is, subjectively, does Christianity work? Will it actually work in my life and make a difference?
Well let me tell you. From my experience, it does. It "works."
Ultimately every other religion or psychological self-help method relies on ME to accomplish it. And for a lot of people, this is a good thing. Because I'm very capable. I always have been. Truthfully, I have never really struggled with much. I have said more times than I care to admit that "I may not be the smartest person, but I'm definitely not the dumbest, and I know some people who are a lot worse off than me who figure this out. So I can, too." And that is how I have faced many challenging situations. But I've been very convicted of this mentality, especially when I have realized a lot recently that this mantra doesn't "work."
I fell on my face in my bedroom on the first day of second semester back in January. I knew God was wanting me to pray about my situation. The day before I had received news at school that I was going to have a very, shall we say challenging, group of students in one of my classes. If you had asked just about any teacher who the top-five most difficult students were in our 8th grade class this year, I had three of those top five in this one class alone. I was already overwhelmed with just about everything in life, experiencing my first panic attacks, and dealing with postpartum depression. So this news shook me. I wanted nothing more than to end my teaching career with an easy, fun group of students, but this was NOT going to be it. Frankly, I was pretty mad about it. So on the first day of this semester, I prayed about it. Yet the words that came to my mind went like this:
God, please give me your strength, your peace, and hope
-- wait, no, not hope. I know I have hope because I'm a Christian. Plus, I know that I'm capable of getting through pretty much anything for 18 weeks when I put my mind to it.
And then it hit me. Smack dab in the middle of my prayer, I realized for the first time that my mantra for getting through tough times was completely about ME. "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me" was some pithy catch phrase I had just been using my whole life, but really, when push came to shove and I was really in a difficult time, always - ALWAYS! - my deep inner voice was telling me "You've got this because you're good enough to get through it. You've got the smarts. You've got the ability. You've got the strength. You can do it." So then my prayer completely changed directions.
God, you're right. I've been hoping in myself and not in you. Lord, I guess I don't really know how to hope in you. Please help me do that. And Lord, please don't just make the next 18 weeks bearable. Make them miraculously good and use me to show my students Jesus. Help me to hope in YOU in my classroom each day, not myself and my teaching abilities or my ability to just grit my teeth and get through something tough. Help me to have hope and faith that you truly can accomplish this because I know I can't.
What happened from January through May was truly nothing short of miraculous. Not only did those three challenging students not cause any real disruptions or hardships in the classroom, one of them actually developed a great relationship with me. And the class as a whole became one of my favorites. They were fun, sweet, easy-going, caring, and funny. I looked forward to the class each day. I had the opportunity to really help a young lady in that class who was dealing with a very difficult issue with a friend, and she wrote me a letter telling me how much it had helped and impacted her. It turned out to be just the class that God had prepared for me for my final semester as a teacher.
I know my own heart. And I know without a shadow of a doubt that this miraculous change in these students was not just a change in my own perspective. It wasn't just because I had an attitude adjustment. Because I know me and how quickly my attitude becomes entirely self-absorbed when I face difficult things that I find unfair. The Holy Spirit changed me in a way that I could not have changed myself through some mantra and good vibes. The Holy Spirit worked on the hearts of those students while in my classroom to make it a positive social and learning environment.
And my self-help mantra is 180 degrees different now as we face the unknown difficulties coming up as we move to Romania. There are so many things that I can't envision and for which I don't have answers. And this past semester of finding total brokenness in my own abilities and independence has shown me that I truly can't face what the Lord has called me to by myself. Moving overseas with kids? Not speaking the language? Having no idea where we're going to live yet? Having a baby in a foreign country without established community? Not knowing how my two toddlers are going to adjust and who will help me with them? Being away from friends and family? I can't do those things on my own. I just can't. I'm scared of all of those things. I'm terrified for my children. I grieve heavily for everything we're leaving behind and especially all that this means for my kids. This is such a stark life-change that I can't just grit my teeth and bare it for a short time period. I can't just rely on myself because it's too much for me. And yet I know that this religion "works." I know that the Lord is going before me and is going to carry me through. Not just because He's gifted me with being smart or a fairly capable human being with abilities to pull myself through it, but because He has promised to fight for me and I need only to be still. (Exodus 14:14)
The Christian religion "working" doesn't mean that my life is suddenly going to be successful and perfect by any worldly standards. In fact, the Bible affirms for us that we ought to expect persecution and hardship when we follow Jesus, for if the world killed Jesus despite him being blameless, how much more should we expect to suffer with Him? However, my relationship with Jesus "works" because, despite my circumstances, the Lord provides me with hope for restoration of this broken world and a deep joy that I am loved by the King. And those things have nothing to do with me and how good or capable or beautiful or wealthy or lucky or smart or righteous I am. And I am so very, very grateful that the Lord has shown me my deep need of hoping in Him this past semester. And I'm so grateful that He answered my prayers so that I could end my teaching career in a way that glorified Him because of the way that it changed my heart.