October 8, 2015

Giving Praise

Today is Thursday, and I am home. In truth, I love Thursdays this semester. Thursdays are like Fridays to me. I treat them like other people do a Friday (TGIF!). They are the day that reminds me just how close I am to resting, just how close I am to the weekend so I can rest. Thursdays wrap up my teaching time at Arizona Christian, and while I still have Friday left at Grand Canyon, for the most part, I am on cruise control. I am pushing toward the weekend -- full steam a head -- so looking forward to my Saturday and Sunday. Ah, rest. I am so in need of a good long rest.

The good news is that next week, I have Tuesday off. ACU has a short fall break in October, so the students have M-T off next week. I only teaching a TTR schedule, and that means, I get just one day to chill out. I am planning a research day on TH, and I have an extra credit assignment available for my students to do for me. Mostly, I am going to give them a reason to enjoy their break from class. Plus, I am going to enjoy my break from class too. It is a good thing, a really, really, good thing.

Praising God Despite Troubles

As I sit here today, I am praising God for His mercy and goodness toward me. I know I write this a lot, often, daily, and the reason I do it is to bear witness to God's goodness in my life. You see, I feel that I must tell others about His Name, and I must give praise, witness and testimony to His goodness. I am "compelled" to do it, and no matter how I try to get out of it, to stop doing it, I just cannot. It just comes out of me -- in one way or another -- it just happens. I am like David who said something similar in Psalm 22:22,

I will declare your name to my people; in the assembly I will praise you.

Yes, I will tell of your name to my brothers and sisters; in the midst of the congregation, I will praise you! God is Good. All the time, and in all ways, He is good.

I think about His goodness a lot. I mediate on it, I ponder it, and I wonder about it. I see His goodness all around me, and I feel His goodness in and through my life. It is in the midst of trials, difficulties, and storms when I need to remember His goodness most. It is during these times, times when I am at my worst, lowest, and my least "good" that I find this truth most helpful. You see, when I think or remember His goodness, I am able to continue on. I can press on through whatever trial I am in the midst of, whatever circumstance seems to be besting me, and whatever problem I am trying so diligently to solve. Yes, I need to remind myself that He is good. When I do, my eyes lift up, my head turns around, and I see the goodness of the Lord all around me. Let me explain...

I have not been feeling well now for the past three-four weeks. I am not sure what is wrong with me, but I am generally not well. I know I am tired, very tired, but also I am struggling with pain issues that seem to be persistent. I either have a migraine or I have searing back, leg or foot pain. The pain is causing me to feel depressed, and on top of all of that, I am struggling to keep on top of my studies at Regent and present good content to my students. It seems like this semester is the most difficult, the worst so far (studies and teaching), and even personally, the most challenging for me. I am doing my best to be faithful, to see the blue sky behind the clouds, but in truth, I am worn out. I am road-weary, and I need a long rest. I am not sure how I will make it through to December. I know, of course, that the Lord will see me through it, but day in and day out, I am finding that I am losing control of the little I hold within the grip of my hand. I let most things go, I mean, I really do. I am holding onto only those things that I have direct responsibility for -- under the Lord's guidance -- and yet, I am losing them as well. I feel as though I am an utter failure at my job. I feel as though I am a poor daughter to my parents who so much need and rely on my care. I feel as though physically, I am not going to make it much longer. The pain is all-consuming, and my attention is scattered. I don't know what day it is most of the time, and I run from one place to the next without much control. I mean, I feel like I am struggling to hold onto my little world, and the harder I try to keep all the balls in the air, the more they seem to fly out of my hands. I am not sure how much longer I can take this stress. I know I must, I know I must keep on pushing through this, but truthfully, I feel as though I am about to hit a very hard wall.

A Case in Point

This past week, I thought seriously about leaving teaching and returning to a 40-hour week job. I mean, I did this work before, and I know I can do it. I can make good money, and I would be able to leave my work at "work." With teaching, I am always teaching. I bring my work home with me, I prep my work at home, and then I revise it AT HOME. I cannot get away from it. Furthermore, as I struggle to process the weekly schedule and the demands on my time, I think to myself "how I can possibly handle all of the work?" It is too much, just too much at times. I have learned a very valuable lesson over the past three years, and that is that teaching is the most difficult job in the world. It is by far the most challenging job -- physically, mentally, emotionally, and at times, spiritually -- of all the work I have ever done. While it comes at a great price -- teachers sacrifice their time, their families, their money in order to meet the demands of work and the needs of students -- it also comes with a super rewards package. Yes, there is great reward in seeing students learn, make connections, and grow and develop as human beings. This is the blessing hidden within the high price that comes with being a teacher.

I have had doubts about my teaching ability for the past three years. In truth, I have probably doubted my abilities for 20 some years. I do not feel that I am a good teacher. I try very hard, but I don't seem to be able to make it happen. I watch other teachers and I see their zeal, their efforts, their reaction to and from students. I am not like this -- and no matter how hard I try -- I do not generate the same kind of reaction. I want my students to like me, of course I do, but I also want them to learn. I see them struggle, I seem them flounder, and I see them "check out" in my classroom. I feel like a failure every time I see a student sigh, gasp or tune me out. I think, "I've lost them, and I have to get them back." I can't do it. I have tried, I have really tried, and I still cannot do it. I lose them, and I cannot get them back.

This week, in particular, I think I came to the conclusion that as far as being an "entertaining" teacher, I am an utter failure. Yes, I am not a fun teacher to have in the classroom. I am not entertaining, I am not fun, and I am not interesting. I am boring, difficult, and at times, obtuse. I know it, I do. I am, after all, an INTJ, and as such, my brain is wired for research, and not for teaching. Furthermore, I am not funny. Yes, I cannot tell a joke, and I cannot make students laugh. Well, some do, but most find me to be bland and boring. I know it, I am aware of it, and I struggle against it. The problem is that I am the way I am because God designed me to be this way. In short, I cannot be an entertaining teacher because God didn't make me to be one.

I think this is the crux of my problem. I am not fun. I am not interesting. I am not going to make class easy. No, I am going to drill into my students what they need to know, and I am going to tell them why. They may not like it, but it is what it is. I am going to hold them to a standard, and while I give more grace than most teachers, I am simply not going to be something I am not. I cannot. I cannot be what I am not, and that is the rub in all of this.

For the past three years, I have tried to be someone else in the classroom. I have tried to use assessment techniques, technology, and other interesting approaches to teaching in the classroom. I have attended seminars on it, I have tried to incorporate as much as I could into the classroom, and even still, I fail. My students check out. They simply do not care. 

Now, this is not 100% true, of course. I actually do have students who tell me they loved my classes. A few of them, that is. Most probably are so glad to see the back of me, that they will never sign up to take another one of my classes again. Okay, I can live with it. I can deal with that fact.

Why Do I Need Their Approval?

This is the $64 million dollar question, and I think the answer lies at the bottom of most of my stress. I am trying to make my students like me, like my class, like the way I teach, and as long as I focus on this as a pursuit, I will fail. My job as a teacher is not to make my students like me. My job is to teach them how to write a solid academic essay. My job is to teach them how to communicate well. They may find me boring, true, but in the end, I have to say that I did my best to teach them what I felt was most important and most crucial to their learning experience. That my friends is the end of it.

It seems that I have gotten myself on this merry-go-round of "approval seeking," and in doing so, I have sabotaged my own efforts this semester. I am not sure how this happened, but perhaps it was because of the classroom dynamic or perhaps it was just because I am so road-weary right now. I don't know, I just don't know. But I am feeling sick, and to keep from getting sick (I am on the cusp of it), I am stepping off this merry-go-round, and taking a break from "people pleasing" activity.

What is a people pleaser and how do you know if you are one? This is a good question, and I can tell you that I used to be a people pleaser. Oh my, yes! I learned the hard way how this type of behavior doesn't do anything to help you, and that in the end, it only hurts you. According to Darlene Lancer (2014), people pleasing begins in childhood, and often leads to dissatisfaction in our adult life. She writes, "Everyone starts out in life wanting to be safe, loved, and accepted. It’s in our DNA. Some of us figure out that the best way to do this is to put aside what we want or feel and allow someone else’s needs and feelings to take precedence" (para. 1).  People pleasing stems from a need to be loved, and people who engage in this behavior tie their self-worth to approval. Therefore, if I am loved, then my self-worth says that I am a lovable person (para. 3).  Lancer states that it is possible to change, but to do so, we must be willing to do the work to change our view, our self-assessment, and our mindset. She says, "It’s possible to change and find our voice, our power, and our passion. It requires getting reacquainted with that Self we’ve hidden, discovering our feelings and needs, and risking asserting and acting on them" (para. 11). Moreover, she continues, "It’s a process of raising our sense of self-worth and self-esteem and healing the shame we may not even know that we carry, but it’s a worthy adventure of self-reclamation" (para. 11).

In my case, I feel as though I have tied my self-worth to my performance as a teacher. In this way, when my students don't show me respect, love, or approval, I feel that I have failed in my ability to teach. Yet, my students performance in class, their quality essays, demonstrate something different. My student's performance (of which almost all have As) shows me that I have not failed, but that I have succeeded in teaching them something. 

My need for approval is part of my personality. I desire approval, and I always have desired approval since I was a child. I needed my father's approval, and I still try to prove to him that I am good at something -- teaching, computing, parenting, etc. Yet, my need to find approval in teaching has come about most recently in my struggle to change careers and to embrace a part of my personality that is weaker, less assured. You see, as an Analyst, I am very strong and confident. As I teacher, I am weak and overwhelmed. Yet, in both jobs, my strengths are obvious to those who see me in action. When I perform analysis on anything, I am able to do so with precision and ease of effort. My analysis is usually spot on and I know that I am capable, able, and good at doing this type of work. Likewise, when I am teaching my students, my teaching ability stems from my knowledge of my subject, and the way I present it to my students. I engage them with content, and in doing so, I encourage them to think laterally. Most of my students don't get this approach, but that is because they have had 12-years of spoon feeding, and I am asking them to engage their brains and do more than just sit there and let me "choo choo" content into them. When I am observed by Faculty trainers, I am always complimented on my approach, and I am told that I am a fantastic teacher.

Why is There a Disconnect Then?

I think what has happened to me is that I have seen a disconnect between the way I teach, and the way my students learn. I am being asked by faculty training to change the way I teach (not directly, but through seminars and other assessment courses) to be more student-centric. I am being encouraged to facilitate and not teach, to entertain and not educate. I cannot do it. I just cannot do it.

My personality, the way I think, the way I process, all works against this mindset. I am not able to teach my students through a "spoon fed" approach. I cannot do it, I will not do it.

Since day one, I have walked into my classrooms and I have felt like my approach is bad, and because I am not doing things the way the experts say work, I am a bad teacher.

Bad, bad, bad.

Now, why have I accepted this determination? It goes back to people pleasing. I want want people to like me, to think I am smart, good, etc. I want to please people, and frankly, the more I try to do it, the more I fail.

Paul says it this way in Galatians 1:10 NLT, "Obviously, I'm not trying to win the approval of people, but of God. If pleasing people were my goal, I would not be Christ's servant." Ouch! 

Am I trying to please people or am I trying to be Christ's servant? WOW! What a difficult question, but so pertinent to understanding why I feel the way I do, and why I am struggling so much with process. In truth, I am seeking Christ's approval. I am a fully-devoted, wholly committed servant of the Lord Jesus Christ. In my work, my good practical work, I seek to serve Him always. I show up, I do my best, and I pray that He blesses my efforts. I receive grace over and over again, and for that I am thankful. Yet, there is a part of me that wants to please people, to be liked, to be approved.

In Colossians 3:23 NLT, Paul writes again, "Work willingly at whatever you do, as though you were working for the Lord rather than for people." No matter what job we do, we must always work for the Lord, and that means doing our best regardless of the outcome.

Rick Warren, Pastor of Saddleback Church says it this way:
He's [Paul] saying that no job is too small: no job is too menial: no job is too insignificant when you have the right motive and perspective. We should think, I'm doing it for God; I'm doing this job as if I'm doing it for the Lord. I used to clean meat lockers in a butcher shop, and I would clean it as unto the Lord.
Warren goes on to say that if we are working for the Lord, then our motive should produce two characteristics: excellence and enthusiasm.

We should work hard and with great enjoyment because we are working for the Lord.

As I think about this, I think to myself, "Am I working for the Lord or to please my university, my dean, and my students?" Truthfully, I do need to do good work for all three of these people (and institutions), yet if I am serving the Lord first, then my actions should satisfy the rest. Matthew 6:33 NLT says it this way,

Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need.

Recently, I read C.S. Lewis' "Mere Christianity," and in it, Lewis offers his own explanation of why we must put God first in all things.  In his "Letters," he writes,
When I have learnt to love God better than my earthly dearest, I shall love my earthly dearest better than I do now. In so far as I learn to love my earthly dearest at the expense of God and instead of God, I shall be moving towards the state in which I shall not love my earthly dearest t all. When first things are put first, second things are not suppressed but increased.
When I think about it this way, it makes sense to me. So long as I put God first, and view my practical work (as service to Him), then I have a right order and perspective on things. I am putting "first things first" so to speak. All other things will find their proper place so long as I put God first in my life. I know that I want to do this, so much so, but my flesh gets worried, stressed, and fearful when I feel as though I am failing, not doing my best, or out of my element. God has not called me to a life of luxury or of ease. No, He has called me to be diligent and faithful, to do good work, but to remember that in all things I am to serve Him first and foremost.

If my life is ordered rightly, then as Matthew said, "all the rest will be added to it." I will have everything I need to do life according to His will, His work, and His way.

I get it now. I see how I have put pleasing my students into a higher rank than I should. I have considered their feelings and satisfaction as being more important than pleasing the Lord with my excellence and enthusiasm. I am to work for God's approval and not man's. No matter how good it sounds, how much it makes sense to please another person, it should never take precedent over what we do in God's Name. After all, like David said,

I will tell of your name to my brothers and sisters; in the midst of the congregation, I will praise you!

It is God whom we praise, not men. May His Name be praised today and forever more. Amen, so be it. Selah (Pause and calmly think about it!)

No comments: