I had an “aha” moment about life the other day at work.
I teach some pretty challenging high school students. These kids carry so much outside baggage; when they tell me their stories, I am overwhelmed for them. I have always had challenging students in my classes - it comes with the job
For my continuing education, I have been reading book after book with updated teaching strategies. The books are brimming with suggestions, expert advice and thoughts on education, how to create a more engaging classroom and how to reach and motivate every kind of student, even the most difficult. These books have some good stuff in them, but do you know what sentence stopped me completely in my tracks and gave me the most encouragement?
“Remember that working with difficult students is frustrating.”1
Whew. Let me breathe a sigh of relief, because as much as I love my job, there are moments when I have tried everything to motivate a student and nothing seems to work. I hate that. It is discouraging. But the above quote implies that frustrations are normal, expected and even okay. It doesn’t mean that I need a whole new string of suggestions for better teaching and motivational strategies, I just need to know that frustrations are part of the job and carry on.
I love that. Because, when I hear something is supposed to sometimes be frustrating, I approach it differently. I bring to the table extra patience and resilience and perseverance. I expect to use those qualities, so I don’t let the frustrations so intensely rock my world. I can better set my emotions aside, evaluate a situation and more confidently move towards a solution. I can shrug off the discouragements I cannot control and shift my focus to how I am going to react, what I can control and with what kind of attitude.
Frustrations never have to steal away my professionalism, my personal joy, or my ability to love my job. Frustrations do not mean I have lost hope in the student and will quit trying; they just tell me that some days are frustrating and that is an expected part of being a teacher. I don’t always have to figure out the “why,” I just need to persevere and often, keep doing what I am doing.
Just like life.
Life is full of frustrations. No one is exempt from life’s cruelties. At some point, the storm will come for each one of us.
But, that doesn’t necessarily mean it is our fault. It doesn’t mean that we should always read a bunch of self-help books, or need a list of things to try differently. It does not mean we need to beat ourselves up for the things we cannot change. It does not mean that we should drive ourselves crazy by gripping tighter and trying to control what we can’t. It doesn’t mean that we always have to understand: “why is this happening to me” or “why do bad things even happen at all?” (I have never received a satisfactory answer to either of those questions and have never found dwelling on those thoughts helpful.) Frustrations can make us uncomfortable as we often feel pain and loss, but they don’t have to steal away our joy. Discouragements do not mean that we aren’t good enough and they should not rob us of our self-worth. Life’s challenges and failures will never change the fact that we are children of God and so deeply loved by our Creator that we cannot fully comprehend it. Frustrations don’t take away the purpose that God has given our lives and His ability to use us – whether we feel worthy or not – to spread His big love and bring Him glory. No matter what, Jesus can always create beauty from ashes.
Life will always hold hardships and challenges.
Sometimes, all we need to do is remind ourselves that frustrations are normal. We can let that thought ease our mind and help us not let the challenges so fiercely rock our world (or we let them rock our world for a while and then we recover). We dig deep and find extra patience and resilience and perseverance. We cling to God's hope. We focus on our reaction to the situation, our attitude, and what we actually can control. And we simply…carry on.