Back to School, Part 1 by Willow Weston

When we hear the word ‘learn’, we are flooded with images that invoke strong memories and feelings. I don’t know about you, but when I hear the word ‘learn’ it invokes feelings of anxiety and dread and memories of tests, all nighters, Vivarin, binge studying, CliffNotes, group projects gone wrong, SAT’s and report cards. I think of scantron sheets where if I didn’t know the answer I would “scan” my answers and balance them out or if all else failed, answer ‘c’. That never worked.

I hear the word ‘learn’ and think of getting called into the principal’s office because I thought it was a great idea to leave elementary school and go hit the candy store. I still think that’s a good idea, but the principal with the paddle didn’t! I think of the school spelling bees and the time I had to write ‘I will not talk back to the teacher’ two hundred times because I was born sassy. When I hear the word ‘learn’ I think about hiding in the coat closet in kindergarten on St. Patrick’s day because I had no green on. I think of scoliosis checks, test anxiety, and burning a girls hair off with a bunsen burner in high school chemistry class.

The word ‘learn’ triggers in all of us different memories and emotions.

In Matthew 4 Jesus was walking the beach and He saw two brothers fishing. Most likely, they were making bets on who would catch the first, the biggest and the most fish. That’s what the men in my family do for bragging rights. So as these bros were casting their nets, Jesus walked up to them and said these four words: “Come and follow me.”  Jesus said these words to Peter, Andrew, James, John, Matthew and many others in the New Testament. This phrase literally means, Come after me and learn from me. This was Jesus calling his disciples. Many of you are familiar with this word ‘disciple’ and it actually means ‘learner’.

This was apparently the God of the Universe, the One who made poodles and silly kids and belly laughter, komodo dragons, peaches and the Big Dipper- it was Him who showed up on people’s scenes and called them to watch, listen, and experience, so to learn from Him. And for some crazy reason, people did.  People left their people, their homes, their careers, their dreams and their plans and followed Jesus.

The word follow means ‘to take the same road as another does.’ Jesus actually wants more than for us to agree with His opinions, say yes once and check in on Sundays. Jesus desires for us to learn along the way, as that is how God teaches, along the way. 

I think some of us have been grading ourselves spiritually. It is like we have a spiritual report card as if God is the Principal handing those out on the regular. We have assumed we’ve failed, or maybe we have assumed straight A’s.  How we identify or “grade” ourselves spiritually,  may actually be our greatest obstacle in our spirituality.

If you were to fill out your report card, what subjects are you grading yourself on and what grades are you giving yourself? A few years back, I asked our Collide ministry team if and how they were grading themselves spiritually and the report was astounding. It became clear that though the subjects we grade might be diverse, as women, we all struggle with grading our “spiritual” life. 

We observed that we grade ourselves spiritually based on how much we pray, read the Bible or attend church. The grades we gave ourselves were based on the amount of faith to take risks we display, how anxious we get, or how annoyed and nasty we are to those around us. We grade ourselves based on the standards of others. We grade ourselves based on the assessment of the rules we think we have to follow versus the ones we break. We grade ourselves based on the tests we think we were handed by life. We grade ourselves on the subjects we believe God cares about and I don’t even know where we get half the subjects we grade ourselves on. 

All this spiritual grading matters, because these grades are messing with our relationship with our Teacher! I want to take some time here to recognize how we are identifying ourselves as spiritual learners so that we can fully say yes to to coming after Jesus rather than assuming we are failing as students of God.

Some of us have identified ourselves as:

STUDENTS WITH SPIRITUAL LEARNING DISABILITIES

Some of us are so distracted by our spiritual ADHD that we can’t seem to hold onto God for more than a minute. We have dyslexia and when we attempt to grow in our understanding of God, He just boggles our mind. Some of us feel like we have a spiritual speech impediment; we just can’t talk like other people of faith and this leaves us needing special education. Others among us have short term memory issues and we can’t seem to remember to do the very thing we know we ought to. We feel like we have spiritual learning disabilities.

SPIRITUALLY TIRED STUDENTS

We are tired of expectations, standards, accountability, disciplines, and church. It all feels like work. When we hear “Come and follow me…”, all we want to do is plop ourselves right down in a Lazy Boy with a bag of Cheetos and watch The Bachelorette. We have heard Jesus’ yoke is easy and His burden light and yet we have understood it as quite the opposite. So if Jesus wants to chill with us, that’s cool, otherwise He can go on ahead.

STUDENTS WHO CAN NEVER QUITE PLEASE THE TEACHER

A girl in my son’s 3rd grade class used to whisper in his ear all day long “You’rrrrrre ssssssstupid”. In the same way we hear laggy mean voices that say: “You’re a hypocrite. You won’t stick with it. You are a mess.” It just never quite feels like we can please the Teacher no matter how hard we try. We never pray or go to church enough. We say sorry and then we turn around and do that god awful thing the very next day. Our assumption is that this Teacher must have written our name on the whiteboard a jillion times. This is our warning that we are on the verge of getting sent to the Principal’s office. So we keep avoiding the Teacher and the demerits He might hand us, or we live just trying to win His approval. And winning that feels impossible.

STUDENTS WHO WANT TO BE THE TEACHER

Some of us, we say we follow Jesus. In fact we have said that for years. But you and I both know that there are parts of us that don’t follow Him. We drag him where we are going. We drag Him to accomplish our dreams and plans. We are Jesus draggers, not Jesus followers. And yet, this Jesus invites us to be His student, not His teacher.

STUDENTS WHO HATE JESUS’ HOMEWORK AND HIS CLASSES

I think a lot of us make following God out to be about only reading the Bible. And when we don’t read it, or we read it and we don’t like what it says and we don’t get what people sacrificing animals and killing people with tent pegs has to do with our life, we are left hating God’s homework. This has found us skipping school altogether because we feel we are failing in this one class. What if God knows the kind of learner we are? What if God can teach us along the way? What if our spirituality can be summed up by more than only reading the Bible? And what if reading the Bible can actually be more captivating than Harry Potter and 50 Shades of Gray, put together?

CHRISTIAN CHEATERS

Some of us have been going through the motions so long spiritually that we feel like a fake, a fraud. We say all the right things, but we don’t actually mean them. We are apathetic about the things we know we should have passion for. We act like we care about the “lost”, but we care about what we have found. We act like we care about kids in Africa, but we really just care about our own. We act like we care about recycling, but we secretly despise the inconvenience of taking care of God’s green earth. We talk more about God than to Him. We look the part, but on the inside we know we are cheating. We’re trying to get all the right answers so we can pass the test without doing any of the real, intensive, inner-transformative work. Instead we peer over and give our neighbor’s answer without thinking for ourselves so we look like a good little student.

TOO COOL FOR SCHOOL

Some of us have built up walls against God. We’re hanging with the cool kids and kind of forgot about this Teacher who wants us to hang out with Him. We have gotten too cool for school and maybe it’s time to drop the cool and go to this school. ‘Cool’ will only get you so far and it is empty, ever-changing and shallow.

GOD DROPOUTS

We have struggled with feeling like we just don’t cut it as a Christian because we don’t have what it takes. We don’t have the self control, desire, lifestyle or faith. We have too many things in the way of being God’s good student.  We are getting an F in religion class and are dropping out of Jesus’ school with no plans of re-enrolling. We feel we are just too far gone, our records are tainted, they won’t let us back in. Or so we think.

STUDENTS WHO HAVE IT NAILED

We have to be real here. I have to call ‘em like I see ‘em. If given the chance some would grade themselves spiritually with straight A’s. Some of us can in seasons of our lives think: I go to church, I pray, I read my Bible, I smile at strangers, I memorize scripture, I have answers for most problems. I have this thing nailed down. So we show up to school to tell all the other students how much we know and try to impress the Teacher with the tests we’ve aced. We don’t come to engage in His presence and teaching as much as we come to be the teacher’s pet. Yet, Jesus isn’t looking for pets! He yearns for our pursuit and engagement. He wants to share the journey more than He wants all our right answers.

When we grade ourselves or others spiritually it starts to look like we are grading God too. Like, God can’t handle our inconsistencies, our mess, our failure, our doubt and apathy. I know it’s hard to believe, but Jesus chose His students and they were not the kind of students you and I would have chosen.

If I were Jesus, I would pick the smart ones, the really spiritual ones, the ones who would make class easy. Not so with Jesus. When He came across teacher’s pets who thought they had this whole coming-after-God-thing down, He usually gave an advanced lecture on what they misunderstood about this God they thought they aced. Jesus didn’t call people who only studied. Jesus chose the class clowns, the irreligious, the nitwits and the dropouts to be His students. He picks kids that have outbursts in class and pick their noses and wipe their boogers on their desks. He picks kids that are flunking out when it comes to God and He says “come after me.”  

If that’s you today, if you feel like you are flunking out in this whole God thing, it’s right there that Jesus meets you and whispers “Come, follow me.” If today you have been judging some of your peer students, you might want to pause and reflect on who it is our Teacher calls. Come back in a few days and see what amazing things Jesus does in the life of some real dropouts. In the meantime, be encouraged God’s students are not just the ones who butter up to the Big Guy upstairs and win Bible trivia.

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