As we round the final corner of summer and enter the beginning of a school year like none before it, anxious worry lurks behind many plans and binds itself to the thoughts of parents and teachers. The questions come in endless variations but the substance is the same.
What if remote schooling continues all year?
What if homeschooling is a bad choice?
What if all these changes everyone is making all at once aren’t a good fit for my child?
In the panicked echo of these questions it can be hard to hear the calming voice of the Savior. “So do not worry about tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own” (Matthew 6:34).
“I know, I know, Jesus,” we say, “but I still have to plan right? I am still responsible for teaching my children. I have to make sure they know everything they could possibly need to know so that they have every chance to succeed.”
And with our justifications we pile the weight of the future on our shoulders.
Now, of course we are required to plan. God places a high calling on parents. They are called to provide instruction for their children (Deuteronomy 6:7). And teachers fill a unique role in helping parents fulfill this command. God insists that we all seek counsel and use wisdom in our decisions rather than stumbling foolishly through life. But when we plan it must be in a way that honors him. In our planning we must seek to let God be God and not try to wrestle control away from him.
Here are three truths that can help us in our journey to do this better.
The End is Not Ours to Know
James reminds his hearers to always remember that plans about the future can never be made with certainty. Everything depends on whether the Lord wills (James 4:15). In this James is echoing the words of Solomon: “The mind of man plans his way, but the LORD directs his steps” (Proverbs 16:9).
This proverb is structured as a contrasting couplet. The word “but” stands between people who plan and the Lord who delivers the results. In other words, for all of our planning, plotting, and scheming the final outcome belongs to the Lord.
People are wired to plan. They often seek to have a “Plan A, “Plan B” and “Plan C” for every possible contingency. Planning is a good thing but we cannot pretend that we know what will happen. Only God knows the future. In our planning we must relinquish our pretended control over the outcomes knowing that the God who has never needed a “Plan B” or “Plan C” is far better suited to work all of this for our good and the good of our children.
God Has a Better Curriculum
Educators all over the country both at home and in school spend countless hours designing and redesigning curriculum. They meticulously create plans that will best suit their students so they can meet desired educational outcomes. Some of these outcomes are self-created; some are state mandated. But in this moment, because of the lost hours last year and uncertainties of this year, many are struggling to know if it will be possible for children to meet these goals.
While we were all surprised, God knew all along that our children may not be able to learn all the lessons in all the ways that our teachers, administrators and curriculum writers had planned. Our goals are often not God’s goals.
What is surprising is that our children may learn more than any of us planned. COVID-19 is not the first plague that Christians have lived through. Each time large scale disease strikes it brings along a unique blend of political strife, blaming, and opposition. Sometimes early Christians described the experience of living through these times as “schooling”. In the midst of plagues they learned to throw off self-seeking and self-absorbed responses to difficulty and found ways to creatively show the love of Christ to the world around.
The Puritans also frequently referred to affliction as a “school”. They were not strangers to difficulties and uncertainties. They experienced them not only from disease and death but also from persecution and being jailed for their faith. Still they continually sought to see the various ways God was always teaching and leading his people in the midst of affliction.
It is because of this tradition that J.C. Ryle could say, “There are no lessons so useful as those learned in the school of affliction.”
The Spirit is a Better Teacher
Even if we had the best teacher, in the best funded classroom, with perfect student/teacher ratios there would always be thousands of unlearned lessons at the end of each day. And it would always be possible that the last lesson that you couldn’t quite get to was the very lesson that a particular student needed to hear the most.
Shortly before Jesus left he promised to leave a Helper and he said of this Helper that, “He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you” (John 14:26). Thankfully the lesson we most need to hear, the one that will make all the difference for now and eternity, is guaranteed to be taught by the only perfect Teacher, the only one that knows us inside and out.
In the midst of all the uncertainties, in all the echoing chorus of questions and doubts, we do not merely have a God who knows the end (though he does), not just a God who has the answers (though he has those too), but a God who gave himself for us and to us. He didn’t just give us a lesson in how to have peace with God, peace with others, or peace in uncertain times. What he gave us is so much better than any lesson in peace. He gave us peace itself!
“Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Do not let your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful” (John 14:27).