Friday, January 16, 2009

Hope in the face of serious math

After 25+ years of teaching young children and 15+years of teaching adults, I understand the importance of hope as it relates to learning. I have seen the research that says that children who have confidence that they can do something are more likely to achieve their goal regardless of ability. I have taught many, many children how to tie their shoes; I could predict which children would learn this skill in a short amount of time based primarily on how confident they were. I even realize that “hope” is a strong emotional skill that promotes a healthy life and effective learning.

I know all of this in my head but my heart is faltering. I am struggling with a lack of hope.

I am taking a statistics class. I actually took this class about 20 years ago for my Masters program. My Dad was the teacher and he graciously passed me. I distinctly remember the day he told us we did not have to worry about completing the math calculations when we did research because our computers would do that for us. I remember a curious whooshing sound coming from my brain. I suspect it was the sound of my brain’s hard drive purging itself of everything it had struggled to learn. Now, I think to myself: “why do I have to prove on quizzes and tests that I can do this math if I won’t have to do it later? Really, I can just trust the experts that it works.”

My current professor is very much like my Dad: he talks very slowly and distinctly as if that will help us to understand, (bless his heart) he tells the same kind of jokes, (all of my Dad’s former students can recite his favorite jokes) he took each person’s picture so he can remember names (my Dad even took my picture) and he is missing the tip of a finger just like my Dad. I realize that this is a rather small sample of the whole population of statistics professors but I hope a fingertip is not the price of working in this field. As a writer, I really need the tips of all of my fingers. And for this class I need all of my fingers to do the math.

I sit in class and do my best to not allow my mind to wander in between the slow easy cadence of his words. I work hard to focus, I take notes, and I read and reread the chapter, check other sources, do the practice quizzes and bring the professor chocolate chip cookies. Yet, I don’t feel that anything I am learning is sticking with me. I definitely lack hope. It is a blessing that I have many people praying for me. Not only do I have to pass this class, but I have to take two more just like it.

Our president-elect knows about hope. His hope is audacious. His hope comes from surviving a difficult up-bringing and going on to achieve great things despite a world that struggles with prejudice and hate. He will need this hope as he heads into his presidency. This country will need his hope, also. Keep him in your prayers.

The hope we have as children of God is audacious in a different way. It is not a hope based on our own goodness or abilities. It is not a hope derived from our own struggles or accomplishments. It is definitely not a hope that rises up from our past. It is a hope based on a God who loved us so much He sent His one and only Son. Our hope is an assurance born of the Resurrection. It is audacious because we do not deserve it. We are math idiots in a graduate level statistics class with no chance that we can learn on our own. We are sinners who are assured heaven even though we do not deserve it and could never attain it on our own. Yet, we have hope; God will do what He has promised.

In my daily Bible reading I just finished Jeremiah and Lamentations and am currently working through Ezekiel. Talk about a time without hope. Israel was in trouble, big trouble, and a just punishment was raining down hard and fast. But, just as a child being sternly reprimanded by a loving parent, Israel had the hope of God’s love and favor and the assurance of the Messiah’s coming. This is a truly audacious hope. This hope is not a maybe, but complete assurance.

The chance of passing this class does not look good to me. I am very glad that I do not need to pass it on my abilities. I will work as hard as I can and continue to bribe, I mean gift the teacher with cookies, but learning this material and passing this class is in God’s hands. How wonderful that He loves me and cares about my puny little needs.

This week I pray for an audacious-assured-sudden-clarity-of-thought-and-math-ability-hope.

I know that my Redeemer lives, and that in the end He will stand upon the earth. Job 19:25

Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: Because of the LORD’S great love we are not consumed, for His compassions never fail. They are new every morning; and great is Your faithfulness. Lamentations 3: 21-23

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