Thursday, September 12, 2019

James and the Sixth Grade

An Arkie's Faith column from the September 19, 2019, issue of The Mena Star.

James was nervous as he entered the school building. He was always nervous on the first day of school. James found his way to the sixth-grade schoolroom. As he walked through the door a deep male voice boomed a welcome, asked his name, and directed him to a desk. Now James was more nervous than ever. His teacher was a man. He had never had a man for a teacher before.

After the first week or two of the new school year, James wasn’t so nervous in class. He liked Mr. B (that’s what all the students called him) as a teacher. Mr. B had a way of explaining things that made sense to James. Some teachers are just there for the paycheck, just hanging out until retirement is feasible, but not Mr. B. He cared about each of his students and made time for all of them. In class, his eyes and voice were gentle but with enough assertiveness and confidence to keep the class in order. It wasn’t long before James (for the first time) was happy to go to school every single day.

Sixth graders don’t usually make plans for their future, but by the end of sixth grade, James knew what he wanted to do with his life. He wanted to be a teacher. Throughout the rest of his grade school and high school years, his determination never wavered. He wanted to be a teacher like Mr. B. During his senior year in high school James started making plans for college and becoming a teacher.

Although James enjoyed being at school and learning, things were not as good at home. Throughout his high school years, his relationship with his mother deteriorated. Although he was still planning on becoming a teacher, he began to leave navy recruitment pamphlets around the house in strategic locations where his mother would be sure to see them. One day, during an argument with his mother, she yelled, “why don’t you go ahead and join the Navy and get out of my sight.” Seething with anger, James decided that he would join the Navy. He would show his mother.

Shortly after graduation as James was on a bus heading to boot camp and wondering what he had done. As he looked out the window and watched the scenery pass by, he regretted that he had let his mother goad him into a decision that he wasn’t sure was right for him. Why had he let his anger towards her change his goals for the future? Regret washed over him as he realized that the plans that he had been working on since the sixth grade were now in shambles. Even as he lamented over the choices he had allowed himself to be pushed into, he determined to make the best of his situation and be the best sailor he could be.

As James was telling me his story, I could see that the emotions were still fresh in his mind even though the events had happened many years ago. He had recently retired from a career in teaching. Even though his plans were sidetracked when he joined the Navy, he was still able to reach his goals in life. When he got out of the Navy he went back to school and became a teacher. James left me with a nugget of wisdom. He told me, “don’t ever let someone else push you into making decisions that you wouldn’t have made otherwise.”

Too often in life, we let other people affect our decisions. Whether because of anger, peer pressure, desire, friendship, intimidation, or even love, when we let someone else dictate our decisions, things can often go wrong. King Solomon wrote, “a man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.” Proverbs 18:24 (ESV) “The heart of man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps.” Proverbs 16:9 (ESV)  And Isaiah tells us that even when we make a bad decision If we ask God, he will help us make the right decision. “If you go the wrong way—to the right or to the left—you will hear a voice behind you saying, ‘This is the right way. You should go this way.’” Isaiah 10:31 (NCV)

Each one of us makes thousands of choices every day. For some of us, making decisions is difficult. We second guess ourselves all of the time and are never quite sure about the choices we make. It is okay to ask for advice when facing decisions. “Plans fail without good advice, but they succeed with the advice of many others.” Proverbs 15:22 (ESV) But be careful about allowing others to dictate the path of your life. “Trust in the Lord with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding. Seek his will in all you do, and he will show you which path to take.” Proverbs 3:5,6 (NLT)

Gentle Reader, we have all made poor choices at times and have suffered the consequences of those choices. We have all let other people influence us to make choices we shouldn’t have made. The good news is that no matter what poor choices we may have made in the past, there is always hope for a better future. God knew that we would make some bad choices, but he loves us so much that he sent Jesus to pay the price for our sin and to provide a way for our relationship to him to be restored. “Even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.” John 3:14-17 (NKJV)

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