Monday, September 22, 2014

The 7th Graders and the Impossible

My 7th graders began their year reading a short story by Richard Thurman called "The Countess and the Impossible." It's about a boy who gets snagged by the eccentric, mean old lady in his neighborhood whose property he is short-cutting through and she hires him to take care of her lawn. She says she'll pay him what he thinks he's worth -- which he thinks is fifty cents, but she pushes and demands more of him until she can justify paying him two dollars for his work. She'll pay him more in the future, she says, if the quality of his work improves, but a five-dollar job -- well, that would be impossible..

Ultimately, he becomes obsessed with doing a five-dollar job. Once he discovers the secret he needs to get him there (taking 10-minute catnaps when his strength runs out), he ends up spending an entire Thursday making her lawn and yard immaculate beyond anything he ever thought himself capable of . . . and proudly astonishes the Countess by accomplishing the five-dollar job.

This was a great story for these kids to read to begin their junior high careers. Right now, you want to do fifty-cent work. We, your teachers, know that you can actually do two-dollar work and we aren't going to accept anything less. But we also know that within you is the ability to do the impossible: you can understand algebra. You can write a well-structured five-paragraph essay. You can remember all the details about the War for Independence and pull them together into a coherent presentation. You can do this experiment and discover something about the nature of momentum and gravity. You can focus yourself on six hours worth of home study work and get it all done and organized to turn in when you need to. You can fix your attention on the instructor in class so you pick up all the information you need and not distract yourself and your classmates with mindless chatter. You can do this. It is within you to do the five-dollar job. The impossible.

It is always a matter of figuring out what inspires each kid to get there.

In the course of my reading this weekend, I found an old verse that has challenged me often over the years:

Matthew 5:48 -- Be perfect, therefore, as your Heavenly Father is perfect.

PERFECT. Perfect the way God is perfect. Talk about the impossible job.

Whatever it was I read this in over the weekend (and I don't want to take the time to hunt it down now) talked about the possible meanings of "perfect" in this context, how it may not be demanding such an unreachable goal as it sounds. But I see no need to water this down. Jesus was telling us to strive to be just like God -- it's that simple. And the Word tells us that He has given us His Spirit to enable us to do just that. To be like Him.

Without the Spirit, we can only go so far. With the Spirit we are fully capable of doing the five-dollar job. It's just that we settle for two or three dollars, impressed at how far we've come since we were earning quarters.

And once again, I'm inspired to aim for the impossible.

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