In Honor of Those Who Teach. Children.

Most parents send their children off to school when they are five or six, many earlier when pre-school is an option. We sent our youngest son to his first experience of school when he was eleven years, three-hundred and fifty-five days old. My wife has retired after 24 years of home-schooling.

Needless to say, it has been an adjustment for him, as well as for us. Not only has he (courageously, I might add) faced a barrage of new challenges, many never before imagined, but so have we. We are public school rookies trying to navigate a complex system to help our son’s transition to this new world be as smooth as possible.

In this process we have had several opportunities to intersect with his teachers and other professionals at his middle school. I know there are many complex issues related to education in general and public education in particular. But I also know that while the political, philosophical, and theological winds blow and the multiple degreed people debate how and why and where education best happens, there are teachers in classrooms who care about the children and young people they teach. I’ve known that for a long time, but this experience has put names and faces to that knowledge.

I’ve seen the bumper stickers with the political message “What if schools had all the money they needed and the Air Force had to have a bake sale to buy a bomber?” and ignored them. But I was surprised in our first meeting with our son’s teachers that nearly all of them in listing needs for their classrooms requested Kleenex. I realized then that if my son were to show up in class with a runny nose, these teachers would not use (non-existent) district issued tissues, but those they could beg or, failing that, buy. I understand that many teachers willingly spend hundreds of dollars each year from their own pockets to so stock their classrooms.

In the second week, my wife and I were able to have a meeting with all our son’s teachers to address some common concerns. We thanked them for all they were doing. At the end, we gave them each a cinnamon roll, and then picked up a laundry basket of Kleenex boxes and dumped them onto the conference table. In the midst of the ensuing ‘feeding frenzy’ (I don’t know what other words to use) there were expressions like ‘best parents ever’ spoken around the table.

We are hardly that. But it says something both about the needs of teachers, and their dedication, when one can make their day by giving them boxes of Kleenex. I cannot think of words with which to express my wonder at and appreciation for the good people that God has raised up around my son to guide his success.

My hat is off to all who teach. Who teach not history or English or science, but teach children.


Questions from the Sixties

The title does not refer to the famous decade of the 20th Century, but of the advanced decade of a human life. We are considering the kinds of questions that various decades of life force upon us, as suggested by Gordon MacDonald in his book A Resilient Life.

The sixty-year-old then is asking questions which reflect the fact that some whom he loves have died and his accomplishments are fading farther into the background.

When do I stop doing the things that have always defined me?
Why do I feel ignored by a large part of the younger population?
Do I have enough time to do all the things I’ve dreamed about doing?

Life and death issues loom:

Why am I curious about who is listed in the obituaries?
Who will be around me when I die?
Which one of us (if married) will go first?
What is it like to say goodbye?

And again, end of life issues push the buttons of doubt and fear:

Are the things I’ve believed in capable of taking me to the end?
Is there really life after death?
What do I regret?
What have I done that will outlive me?

We invest a great deal of effort in trying to form our messages to be comprehended by youth. We need to take these questions to heart as we seek to speak to those who are older as well.

Reaching Fifty

The questions we ask at various stages in life are not bound to the age we actually inhabit, but more to the life situations those ages thrust upon us. So, some may ask questions at 45 that others are not asking until 65, and vise versa. But these generalizations do help us who teach and preach to consider how we might better connect with the real concerns of our audience.

As we ‘reach’ the fifties, Gordon MacDonald, from whose book A Resilient Life these observations come, says that having moved past life’s middle, we have reached a point for sober thinking. The questions that arise include:

Why is time moving so fast?
Why is my body becoming unreliable?
How do I deal with my failures and successes?
How can my spouse and I reinvigorate our relationship now that the children are gone?
Who are these young people who want to replace me?
Will we have enough money for our retirement years?

And, perhaps more than before, this one:

What do I do with my doubts and fears?

In the Forties

We are pondering the questions that people in various stages of life might be asking so that we might better communicate with them. Perhaps these suggestions from Gordon MacDonald are accurate, perhaps not, but they seem to me to be a good place to begin the conversation.

Those in their forties realize that they are beyond the place where they can protest that their mistakes are the product of youthful ignorance. They are mature, and are beginning to realize that they will not live forever. We wonder what has made us what we are and we wonder what we have yet to become. Some questions:

Who was I as a child, and what powers back then influence the kind of person I am today?
Why do some people seem to be doing better than I?
Why am I often disappointed in myself and others?
Why are limitations beginning to outnumber options?

The forties are times of great change. Bodies, children, marriage, financial standing, all change and create uncertainty. Questions can hinge toward hope or despair:

Why do I seem to face so many uncertainties?
What can I do to make a greater contribution to my generation?
What would it take to pick up a whole new calling in life and do the thing I’ve always wanted to do?

Though the word ‘trapped’ does come up more often than we wish it would, the forties can be a time when people are encouraged to focus their energies in a whole new way for good.

Questions of a ‘ThirtySomething’

Continuing to consider the questions that people in various stages of life are asking, Gordon MacDonald considers those in their thirties.

How do I prioritize the demands being made on my life?
How far can I go in fulfilling my sense of purpose?
Who are the people with whom I know I walk through life?

This last question is one of loneliness. With increased demands on time and responsibilities, old friendships drift into the distance, and there often is not the time to build and deepen new friendships.

This increased time demand raises a spiritual component. There is no longer much time for retreats and conferences and times of hanging out. Words like ’empty’, ‘tired’, ‘confused’, and ‘drifting’ come up frequently. And so does the question

What does my spiritual life look like? Do I even have time for one?

And this is complicated by the sense of failure that may begin to peek over the horizon, leading to the question:

Why am I not a better person?

If these thoughts are anywhere near the mark, it speaks of fertile ground for the Gospel.

“20-ish” Questions

In reference to this goal, then, what are the questions that those in their twenties are asking? I summarize MacDonald here:

What kind of a man or woman am I becoming?
How am I different from my mother or father?
Where can I find a few friends who will welcome me as I am and who will offer the familylike connections that I need [or never had]?
Can I love, and am I lovable?

MacDonald finds fear of rejection, loneliness, and the feeling that one might not fit.

Other questions include

What will I do with my life?
What is it that I really want in exchange for my life’s labors?
What parts of me and my life need correction?
Around what person or conviction will I organize my life?

Do you agree with these? What would you add or take away?

The Questions of Life

I’ve read about 40% of Gordon MacDonald’s book A Resilient Life and can only commend it with one SERIOUS reservation which, while not stripping the book of all value, places it in a category in which I could not give it to anyone without some explanation. I’ll comment on that when I have the opportunity to finish it.

I draw attention to the book at this point in order to extract from it something that MacDonald very well and which many should find useful. I refer to a portion of the book in which MacDonald helps us understand the questions that people are asking at various stages of their lives. This has value to me as a preacher but can be useful as well to any who are involved in teaching or leading adults.

Preachers, for example, have a message that they want to be heard. It is not merely an intellectual message appealing to intellectuals interested in discussing all the latest ideas. It is a practical message regarding a person’s place in this world and the purpose of his life. If I can preach Jesus in such a way that intersects the questions a listener is already asking, he is far more likely to give the message attention than if what I am saying appears to be ethereal and unrelated to the life he, or she, is living. In preparing a sermon or a lesson, it is good to ponder the questions the listener brings to the table so that one might address the content in such a way that it answers those questions. Do that, and we will be heard.

But getting a handle on what those questions are can be the tricky part. MacDonald has asked representative people from each decade of life to share with him the questions which most concern their peers. He asked this of twenty-somethings, those in their thirties, and each decade thereafter. His read on these questions seems to me to be highly accurate. I would like to share those with the readers of this blog.

But before I do that, I encourage those of you who are reading this and are interested to ponder what you think those questions might be. What questions are those in YOUR decade asking? What troubles them? What do they worry about? What occupies their innermost thoughts? What matters most to them?