I was reminded of that this past week when one of my students remarked on a line out of an essay we read: “Part of our calling as delighted creatures of God is to be playful.” The student’s overwhelming impression from a limited time at a Christian school is that what Christians talk about as God’s calling on our lives and our duty to God is always difficult, grit-your-teeth kinds of things.
Sometimes. But don’t forget joy.
Bad things happen in the world at large and in our own individual worlds. In the midst of this, we struggle. We struggle to be our best selves, to know what is right and wise and kind, to follow God. To cooperate in the healing of the brokenness in ourselves, in those around us, and in the systems within which we live. The brokenness of ignorance, fear, hatred, apathy, injustice, pride, and so much more.
In the midst of the struggle, don’t forget joy.
While we may wonder about the God who sees every sufferer and allows the suffering to continue, don’t forget that the same God sees every sunrise on every deserted island beach and every baby mountain goat taking its first step. That was the one thing I remember from a large book I read a number of years ago—The Pleasures of God by John Piper. That idea, and the title of the chapter it was in: “The Complex Emotional Life of God.”
Jesus was not only a man of sorrows, but also a man who could talk to his friends—and be taken seriously—about giving them his joy so their joy could be complete (John 15:11).
How did we come to read this essay? I included it as the Biblical perspective piece in our current AP English Language unit, “Does School Educate?” We have read pieces in the textbook such as “I Know Why the Caged Bird Cannot Read,” an article by Francine Prose in Harper’s Magazine; an excerpt from the American classic Education by Ralph Waldo Emerson; “A Talk to Teachers” by James Baldwin at the height of the American civil rights movement; “Superman and Me” by Sherman Alexie, a current young adult author who also happens to be Native American; “School” by Kyoko Mori, comparing the author’s experience in US and Japanese educational systems; and “This Is Water,” a commencement address by David Foster Wallace.
They were wonderful, varied pieces: varied in time, perspective, style, and argument. We had good discussions. (Especially the fishbowl discussion!) And I’m glad I remembered back in the planning stages of the unit to include a Christian perspective piece. And I’m glad it was this one.
Now students are synthesizing what they have read, analyzed, and discussed into a paper articulating their own view of education.
I hope they remember that part of it is for joy. I hope I remember. I hope I can continue, by content and by example, to teach joy as well as struggle.