The students in my eighth grade Language Arts Fundamentals class had a particularly difficult day today. They had to write a paragraph long response to an article we’d read, citing two pieces of evidence to support their first statement, and they had to do it independently. We had practiced together for many days. These academically at-risk students know all the steps to this process, but without constant reassurance and guidance, they do not trust themselves to correctly complete such a task. My co-teacher and I had made a pact to let them struggle through it. It was painful.
One boy in particular, Sean, seemed not to have a clue at the beginning of our 90 minute, two block session. It was as if he had just entered our classroom for the first time. He had writing on his paper-lots of it, but none of it answered the prompt he’d been given. My only recourse, given the pact I had entered, was to coach him along by restating small pieces of the directions for him to figure out and fix. It was an excruciatingly slow process, and as I mentioned, it was painful.
Sean, being a good-natured boy, complied with my directions to keep writing and revising. To his credit, he did not give up. Near the end of the hour and a half long session, he had an adequate paragraph that met the minimum requirements of the prompt. Only after he’d finished did I hear his first complaint: he was tired. He looked exhausted, yet his face beamed with the joy of accomplishment. I told him we had exercised his brain today, and I congratulated him for learning. He glowed.
It took a few minutes for me to realize where I’d recently seen such a look. It was just last night. My son had an unusually rigorous soccer practice. His coaches ran the team through difficult maneuvers and tiring drills. The group ran at least five laps throughout the session, compared to the usual one or two. The boys sweated profusely in the over 100 degree heat. I thought for sure I’d hear nothing but complaining on the way home. Instead, my son was ecstatic that he’d completed the practice and grateful to be a part of this new team that works him so hard and helps him to become a better soccer player. I was stunned and thrilled. My son was tired, hungry and elated.
Both boys had toiled without complaint though the task was rough. They both refused to give up, having some innate sense that the struggle would pay off. They both allowed themselves to be pushed, uncomfortably, to a new and better place.
This afternoon, as I ponder the quality these boys have in common, I know there is a lesson in there for me. I like my comfort. I enjoy doing what I’m good at and effortlessly accomplishing my day’s work. When things get difficult, I look for ways to ease my distress. I do not welcome struggle.
Yet I am reminded of the verses in James 1:2-3: “Consider it all joy when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance.”
Endurance. Accomplishment. Advancement. These are the results of struggle, striving and sweat. How easily I forget that my adversities are times of growth. How quickly I shy away from the uncomfortable feelings that accompany difficult endeavors.
These two middle school boys don’t know it, but they have been role models for me, by exerting tireless effort without complaining, by welcoming struggle and looking forward to the rewards it will bring. I hope that the next time adversity arises, I will also struggle vigorously, looking towards the improvements in me that will follow.