I got a new job, and it’s too big for me.
Next year, I’ll be teaching 7th and 8th grade humanities at a private school that serves students from the Richmond city school district. I’ve had my eye on this school for several years, and I am thrilled to join the work there.
For the past few years, I’ve been teaching at a rigorous classical school. Most of my students there come from privileged families. Their parents invest in them in ways that lead to longterm flourishing and academic success. My own children attended the school, and I benefitted from a kind of cultural shorthand with my students that made them easy to teach. I loved spending time with these sweet children, but I sensed the Lord moving me on.
My new students have backgrounds and families that look very different from mine. I may know how to teach, but I’m keenly aware of how much I don’t know about these students’ lives and communities. Faced with my ignorance, I’ve been doing what I usually do which is binge-research. But the facts are sobering. I have so much to learn if I’m going to serve these kids well. There’s a good chance that I’m never going to be the best person for the job.
I’ve got some other leadership gigs this summer and fall, and as it turns out, I am out of my depth in those areas, too. I’m coaching a marathon training team for the first time. It’s a group I’ve been running with for a few years, so I know that many runners on the team have much more experience than I do. You got a lot of nerve, Peacho.
In July, I’m heading back to Uganda to help lead a marriage and parenting conference with some local ministry partners there. Even after twenty years of marriage and raising three children, I’m groping along, always looking for wiser women to copy. In fact, my sisters and I say that we’re Benjamin Button when it comes to raising teenagers. We are traveling backwards. With each passing year, we grow less sure of our methods. What parenting tools can I possibly offer women raising fifteen orphans in a refugee settlement? What will I say to second and third wives who are dependent on the same man for protection? I’m overwhelmed.
It’s got me thinking about what it takes to be a good leader, and why I have the audacity to take on these roles. I need wisdom, and I don’t have it. It’s a problem. Here’s why I’m not utterly paralyzed by this reality:
In her book Parents and Children, Charlotte Mason explores the relationship between humility and wisdom. She argues that a person can’t learn unless he recognizes that he doesn’t know what he ought to know. Wisdom can only grow in the soil of humility. What’s more, humility is “absolute, not relative. It is by no means a taking of our place among our fellows according to a given scale, some being above us by many grades and others as far below. There is no reference to above or below in a humble soul, which is equally humble before an infant, a primrose, a worm, a beggar, a prince” (283).
It’s not like people need to exercise humility until they find themselves at the top of the information/experience heap, and then they can chuck it. We’re always going to know a few things and not know most things. We’re always going to have more things to learn than we have to teach. We can’t wait until we have nothing left to learn before we begin serving others, or we will never do anything.
My confidence comes from who He is, not what I know. I am excited to spend the year learning.