Each day after school I’d go home, grab a small snack and hop on my homework. I wanted to get my work done to maximize TV time after dinner. And later at the dinner table, Granny Sykes would ask, “Did you get your lesson?”
She was referring to my homework, of course. Granny wanted to be sure I was focused, learning what I was supposed to learn thoroughly – not just rushing through it to enjoy the perk of TV time.
Granny Sykes was both tough and loving. Quick to fuss at me and correct me, Granny also was one of my biggest cheerleaders. She believed in me and told me I could be whatever I wanted to be when I grew up. She’d worked incredibly hard cleaning homes of white families for many years, long before she came to live with us. She wanted the generations after her to have more options in life, and education was key.
So, she asked. And my homework got done, with neat handwriting and all.
Thirty years later, Granny’s question still lingers in my mind. A lot. But, it’s not about kiddie homework anymore.
If we’re honest with ourselves, we know deep down that there’s at least one area of our lives that tests us. I mean, really tests us. In those areas, we often feel frustrated with our own reactions to setbacks. It shows up in our irritation with others, sometimes over simple matters. It can even be in a moment of embarrassment when we realize how silly we may have reacted. These aren’t usually our finest moments, so we don’t like them. We’d rather they not show up; and, if they do, that they’ll pass quickly so that we can enjoy the easier, fun times of life.
For example, I’ve tussled a lot with fear. I was mostly an obedient, quiet child. An agreeable conformist early on, not prone to rocking boats. I didn’t trust my own voice. My heart yearned for the courage to do so; I felt the tug whenever I knew I should speak up for myself. I even understood I’d feel great if I did – a perk. But, rarely did I take that leap. I was afraid, and I usually let fear win.
My mom recognized it and did her best to help me develop courage. Church provided a safe place for young people to grow, from speaking at the podium to playing instruments during service. So, she taught me a song – a short one to sing during the Sunday School hour. I was about 9 years old. We practiced at home, Mom coaching me gently; I even visualized the faces of our church family, faces I knew like the back of my own hand. But every time I got up to sing that song during Sunday School, I cried. I bawled. I barely got through the first line. Fear grabbed me and I couldn’t shake it off. Mom would even sing along to reassure me. But after my 5th tear-filled attempt, she stopped the music, stood up from the piano bench and declared, “Enough.”
Her youngest child simply could not slay this dragon of fear, singing for a crowd.
So, singing in public would not be my path to facing fear. But, thankfully, God created lots of other opportunities for me to learn – and, sometimes, even ace – the Courage lesson. Moments like piano recitals in front of strangers, and delivering the invocation at my high school graduation. Leaving my home to study in other states, and navigating big city life in the North as a Southern girl. Giving birth to two babies, and having to call loved ones to tell them Mom died suddenly.
It took a while for me to see the connecting thread of courage in those and many other moments. At first glance, they could simply appear to be separate moments in time.
But, I’ve come to see that our most important homework moves into our lives and stays with us for the long haul. I’ve learned to look at a bunch of little moments that make up my own big picture to discover which life lessons keep showing up. And that those are the ones that are most beneficial for our growth.
So, when a friend is nervous about becoming a first-time mom, I can reassure her that self-confidence will come. When a loved one passes away, I can reach out and talk with her children. If no one in the business meeting will address the elephant in the room, I’ll do it. These things may be hard, but I’m not afraid of them. Because lessons in courage have done their job stretching me, from the inside out.
Life lessons are meaningless without doing the homework required to understand them. We must pull them out of our bookbags, study them, apply them. I’ve completed some homework with flying colors, and certainly failed at other homework along the way. But, it’s clear the lessons aren’t going anywhere, and the bookbag will never be empty. And that’s A-Okay because they are there for my good, not to harm me. Patience, acceptance and letting go, and traveling light – shedding anything that weighs me down – are just a few assignments in my own bookbag.
We all have bookbags with a unique set of lessons inside, designed just for each of us. And no one is exempt from learning – from children of all ages, to every statesman and world leader. Some lessons are even for groups of us. Families that must learn forgiveness. Communities that must learn trust. Countries that must learn the value of honorable leaders and the power of voting. The list goes on and on.
When we choose to open up our bookbags and hop on the homework we must do to be wiser, to have peace – whatever the gain may be – we will grow. It’s a guarantee. All we must do is be willing to get our lesson.
Are you getting your lesson? What homework is in your bookbag?