I started back to school in order to complete my bachelor’s degree at the age of 37. I was soon faced with the need to remember some things from high school that, frankly, I had forgotten.
College algebra, delved into a realm that I was only somewhat familiar with. I had four years of math in high school, but in ‘92, it was a stretch to say I knew anything of value to help me pass the class.
On the first day, the professor gave us a test with 100 algebra problems. He told us we “must” be able to do at least 25 of them in order to pass his course. I was lost after 10.
I persevered and passed the class with an “A.” Here’s why. I did not believe I could not pass the class, I was determined to take one day at a time. I always went to class, I did all of my homework.
The professor never jumped ahead. He began his class at the beginning, a place I understood, and built every class upon the one before it. He gave us tests weekly and we reviewed those tests at the beginning of class each following week.
That is how I do life. I believe “I can” until it is proven “I cannot.” Of course, I do not believe I can leap tall buildings in a single bound, so I do not try, but I can walk over Tick Hill without stopping now that I have tried and tried.
I attend class and learn the lessons, metaphorically, I do not want to be the kind of person who checks out in life and stops growing, so I apply the lessons of my life in some practical way. That is the analogy equivalent to doing my homework, something I have learned to do all of my life, somewhat successfully.
And I take the tests of life and then review. A test is given to prove the quality of the learning. When I review the test, my errors can be corrected.
All of this focused disciplined is against a time when we take the “final,” the last test that determines your grade “pass or fail.”
One of the most challenging math courses of my college education was a class called “Survey of Calculus.” Or as I like to call it “Survey of Huh?”
Here is a definition: “The branch of mathematics that deals with the finding and properties of derivatives and integrals of functions, by methods originally based on the summation of infinitesimal differences.” The class was designed for business students, because calculus is used to take raw data gathered over time from a market place and make sense of it.
Imagine my dismay when, though he was speaking English, I did not understand many of the words coming out of the professor’s mouth. My midterm exam grades were dismal, Cs and Ds. Again I went to class, I did my homework, I took the tests and we reviewed them; still failure loomed.
It is now time for the final, and if my past test scores were any indication of the outcome, I was in trouble. I took the test and then waited. The envelope came, and the only grade I cared about was Survey of Calculus ... B+! I aced the final because there were no surprises, there were no new problems, I had seen them all before on the midterms.
I learned from this experience that failure is often the best teacher. That through difficulty we gain experience and knowledge, and are better for it.
“For this reason I also suffer these things; for I know whom I have believed and am persuaded that He is able to keep that which I’ve committed to Him until that Day.” (II Timothy 1:12 NKJV) “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:13 NKJV)
Rev. Tim Barton is lead pastor of Wallowa Assembly of God Church in Wallowa.