Brian Underwood: Strength in weakness yields blessings
Summer is over, and I couldn’t be happier.
To some, that may sound odd, especially coming from an educator, but it’s true; however, not for the reasons one might think.
It’s been a long time since March when Americans were called indoors for the balance of winter, spring, and much of the summer. The impact of the pandemic and of politics over the past five months has been beyond surreal for everyone.
For teachers, classified staff, and administrators, though, there’s been the added challenge of being separated from the purpose of our work — kids — and navigating how to support them.
Maintaining continuity in education, providing social and emotional engagement, and facilitating time-honored year-end traditions for students last spring was challenging, to say the least. But then came the otherworldly responsibility of how to welcome them back to everchanging COVID-19 guidelines and directives, and I think I can speak for educators on all levels when I say it’s been a Twilight Zone marathon figuring it all out.
Add in social unrest and the every-day kinds of things that life brings everyone, and I’ve not had to look far to see my weaknesses in all this. Oh, they’ve always been there, as those closest to me can attest, but the trials of the past several months have made it far easier for me to recognize them.
A particular section of God’s word in 2 Corinthians acknowledges our strength when we first acknowledge our frailties and inabilities and leave our burdens to Christ.
In 2 Corinthians 12:9-10, St. Paul writes, “And He (Jesus) has said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness… Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong.’” (2 Corinthians 12:9-10)
In many of his New Testament writings, the Apostle Paul wrote of the uncommon number of challenges he endured during his evangelism for Jesus. Shipwrecks, imprisonment, torture, snake bites, thorns, and other physical hardships were just some of the trials Paul faced. Despite the adversity he faced, he wrote to “give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” (1 Thessalonians 5:18)
This is a tall order, to be sure, but as we think about Paul’s trials, and more importantly, Jesus and his walk to the cross, we are reminded that we are called to participate in Christ’s suffering. “But to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing, so that also at the revelation of his glory you may rejoice with exultation.” 1 Peter 4:13
Professionally, educators and support staff have endured many thorny issues the pandemic has created. And while God’s people are called to work heartily unto him and not to man (Colossians 3:23), St. Paul reminds us that, ultimately, it’s nothing that we can do, but what Christ has already done for us that grants our salvation. His grace is sufficient.
Fully understanding and accepting God’s grace is part of the Christian walk with Jesus that often comes in fits and starts. And let me tell you, earlier this summer, I certainly felt like throwing a fit once or twice. I managed too often to make myself greater and Jesus smaller when confronting such things as return-to-school plans, health and safety concerns, staffing, technology, etc. I made it all about me.
By God’s grace along the way, I kept being reminded of the Scripture passage in 2 Corinthians of our strength in weakness, which is counter to the world. Working heartily is also part of the Christian walk, as Jesus deserves our best, but recognizing and submitting that “for when I am weak, then I am strong” gives us the proper context of the servant-savior relationship.
And so yesterday, five months after last having students on campus for school, SLHS rejoiced in welcoming back our student body, live and in-person, which it will do, five days a week. This is a big reason I’m glad summer vacation is over. Along with our staff, I missed our kids, but it’s not the only reason I’m glad summer vacation is over.
This summer, of all the ones I’ve had in 35 years of education, reinforced the importance of submitting to the Lord and gaining strength in my weakness. In so doing, I, and we as a school, have seen blessings beyond imagination. The close of summer has allowed me to see the fruits of God’s grace, which are evident in so many areas.
And so to all area educators, support staff, administrators, students, parents, and all others concerned with the impact of education, let’s be reminded that God is in control, and we need to let him be.
Ours is to plant and water for him everyday, and as we do this, we know that he is faithful. And we know this through his word, which tell us so.
“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28)
Brian Underwood is executive director of Sierra Lutheran High School.