Sunday, May 2, 2010

School for the Soul

"God allows us to experience the low points in life in order to teach us lessons we would not learn in any other way. The way we learn these lessons is not to deny the feelings but to find the meanings underlying them." ~ Stanley Lindquist

To the joy of most children on a traditional school calendar, the 2009-2010 scholastic year is, once again, drawing to an end. In five and a half more weeks, according to one of my sons, ‘jail will let out.’ That mere comment, happily uttered while standing in front of the calendar counting remaining ‘jail’ days, made me smile.

I asked Michael what he meant by ‘jail life’ at school, and he looked at me with a wide-open, deer-in-the-headlights expression on his face; to his child-mind I had asked the unthinkable. "Why Mom," he said speaking a tad slower as one would do in front of a mentally challenged audience, "I know school is important, but you can’t do anything fun there. And, most of the time, even if teachers get things wrong, you can’t even speak up to say what’s really happening, because that’s considered talking back. And last but not least, there is all this work we always have to do! There just isn’t any time left for being a kid."

I thought for a moment about Michael’s description, and I asked him: "If your teachers didn’t have expectations, and no work was required, if you were never allowed to fail anything or run into conflicts with other kids, school would be more fun, but would you learn anything?"

Michael became silent for a moment, then he looked at me and raised his eyebrow. "Well, I guess not too much. It’s great to have fun all the time, but it doesn’t teach you much, does it?" I gloated inside, careful not to show him how satisfied I was that I had finally won an argument against the teenage genius mind, and I simply smiled at him as he walked away from the calendar and back toward the stairs to go up to his room. This exchange led me to think about life in general, and how wonderful it would be if all could be roses; but if everything was always simple, work and hardship were never an issue, and conflict didn’t exist, would we really learn anything about ourselves and others?

Hardship is often the quickest pathway to learning of our own strengths and weaknesses, and the best gauge to measure our resilience. It is through struggle that we discover we can go the extra mile, and through a bruised ego that we understand what matters most.

While listening to a memorial service a few nights ago, one of the most important things I left with was that our spirit wasn’t born with our body – it is timeless, birthless, deathless, and only using the physical body to learn from our experiences in this world. A life with no challenging experiences would be like a classroom without teachers and curriculums; it would be a fun ride, but in the end we would walk away with nothing learned and little to tell.

A day in school allows children to put in several hours of work and structure, and still gives them a bit of time for recreation and social contact; their time is used to learn and become functional individuals. Life is no different: we are born, learn from other teachers, get punished if we do wrong and rewarded if we do well, and all throughout we enjoy bits of recreational time to relieve the pressure of the challenges leading to our learning. Happy, prosperous and easy-going spells are our well-deserved summer breaks. It might take us a little longer to graduate, but the benefits of our experiences will reach all the way to the soul.