If you have a train going 40 miles per hour, traveling from New York to Chicago, and another train going 45 miles per hour traveling from Chicago to New York, at what exact geographical point on the journey will those trains pass each other?
Did anyone else just experience a brief, but real rage response? Or a cold shudder borne of memories-of-horrific-moments-in-school past? What about a knee-jerk prayer, like Please, no, not again? If so, we are kindred, and I welcome you to my virtual hearthside. Up until three years ago, if the subject of math had come up, I had but one response, like Gollum toward anyone who threatens his Precious: “WE HATES IT FOREVER!”
I was forced to study math all the way up to Calculus in High School and fared miserably, proving that math was, as I called it, my Mortal Nemesis. But three years ago, when the subject of math came up and I gave my usual vehement response, a sage told me this: “You don’t hate math. No one hates absolute truths, perfectly created order. What you hate is being bad at something.”
Dang. That was a bitter pill to swallow. After a moment or two of wrestling, God showed it to me clearly: Pride. What I was jealously defending by declaring hatred of math was my actual nemesis. Pride was my Precious, and math was something that attacked and wounded my pride time and again. So I had always viewed math as an enemy, rather than as a generous gift that would usher me along the paths of humility.
When I screamed in spittle-flying anger at equations that made no sense and hard, hard work I didn’t feel like submitting myself to, I was a kindred to Gollum in his mountainous cavern of selfish darkness, spewing emotional venom at the gentle, kindly folk who harbored only goodness and truth—like my long-suffering, bespeckled math teachers of yore.
Three years later, and I have come to recognize little kindred spirits in our family: our kiddos, confronted by long division, are regularly tempted to tears, and lamenting, and flopping about like Gollum on the end of his leash, claiming injustice and certain death at the beginning of every new math lesson. Thanks be to God, He opened my eyes to the real battle being fought years ago… so this is what math looks like in our home, for now:
As soon as the tears begin to burgeon, I have my kids recite their Math Mantra:
God made me able to do this.
I may have to work really, really hard.
But with Jesus, I will emerge victorious.
(The overly dramatic language usually makes them giggle, which is a nice antidote to the math weepies.)
Then, the kids are invited to cuddle up next to me, where the battle is waged. We slowly go over the problems, and talk through each step. They mutter, and sigh. They erase with unnecessary force, but then laboriously begin again. Eventually, eventually, they do emerge victorious—the shouts of YES! ring off of our walls, and this battle’s victory is much, much the sweeter because it was so hard-fought and humbly won.
These are the days the children and I are learning much the same lessons: Humility in the face of questions that seem so hard; courage and faith when confronted by problems that seem insurmountable. For them, it’s long division, and accepting that being not good at something is actually a gift, designed to soften their hearts and make them ever-more teachable.
As a parent, it’s actually the same gift, wrapped in different packaging: I can’t really help my children until I’ve accepted the lessons my Heavenly Father has been teaching me. In order to do this, I need to stop raging like Gollum when faced with my own weakness and failure, and instead begin to accept my mental and spiritual poverty as gifts that will make my own heart willing to do the hard work necessary to learn the lessons that only humility can teach.