August 1, 2014

It’s All Good / Patti Lamb

No syllabus can prepare us for God’s lessons in the ‘school’ of life

Patti LambWhile shopping for back-to-school supplies with my children, we ran into a baby sitter of theirs who was nearing the start of her sophomore year of college. In the midst of our scavenger hunt for pink erasers, she told us about the many things she’d learned during her freshman year at a large university.

After describing some particular coursework, she said, “But the most important lessons I learned last year weren’t on any syllabus.” She went on to tell us about how she managed to share a tiny space with a roommate who was very different from herself. And she talked about her quest to balance 16 credit hours and a job on campus.

That evening, I reflected on her comment. Some of life’s most important lessons can’t be lectured by a professor or imparted by a well-meaning parent, but can only be learned through personal experience. I got to thinking that maybe God has an unwritten syllabus for our lives—lessons we need to learn to bring us closer to him while we are busy foolishly chasing earthly success.

I grabbed my journal and jotted some ways I was recently “schooled” outside of the classroom.

Go with God’s flow—A wise friend counseled me when I expressed concern about my son’s lack of mastery in a particular area. Despite my repeated attempts to get through to my son, this friend gently encouraged me to stop swimming against the tide. Her exact words were, “Embrace the being God has made.” Her statement spoke to me about the art of acceptance, and the importance of meeting my son right where he is—and exactly how God had intricately designed him—instead of where I want him to be.

Release mistake. Retain lesson—We all make bad choices occasionally. Those unpleasant missteps can be our most effective teachers. Recently, I uttered some mean-spirited words to my husband during a disagreement. I can’t take those words back. That screw-up taught me an important lesson. I learned to step away from a situation and cool down instead of reacting in the emotion of the moment. (Lesson noted, hubby.)

Practice humility—When at the top of your game, be a gracious winner. A wise mentor once told me that “True humility is seeing yourself as God sees you and recognizing that you are not self-made.” If we’re enjoying career or financial success, or if our kids are demonstrating unprecedented athletic prowess, we should express gratitude to God and be good stewards of those God-given gifts. But we don’t need to broadcast every success on social media or talk excessively about our blessings. Life throws curveballs and, while we might be riding high today, tomorrow may bring us to our knees.

God alone knows our hearts—Upon reading a sad newspaper headline, I made an unkind remark about the man who admitted to the crime. My friend reminded me that I’m not the judge and that forgiveness isn’t between him and me; forgiveness is between him and God. She reminded me of Archbishop Fulton Sheen’s words to prison inmates: “The difference between you and me is that you were caught; I was not.” Truly, we are all sinners, and our merciful God is the only one fit to render judgment.

Tears shift our focus—As Pope Francis said, “Sometimes in our lives, tears are the lenses we need to see Jesus.” Human suffering, in its many forms, turns us back to our Creator and realigns us with God and our ultimate mission—making our ways to our eternal home with Christ.

(Patti Lamb, a member of St. Susanna Parish in Plainfield, is a regular columnist for The Criterion.)

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