In the days before digital photography, we used disposable cameras in our family. I had given one to Jacob, our six-year-old son, to use on vacation, his first independent picture taking experience.
“Well, they’ll come back when I take the camera in to get the pictures developed. Just give it to me and I’ll take care of it.”
I could tell from his downcast expression that something was amiss.
“Oh. I threw it away last week. You said it was disposable.”
I couldn’t laugh at my young son even though the thought of how his logic had taken a detour was amusing. After all, these were his first attempts at photography, and now he would never see the results.
I wish I could say I’ve never been caught unaware with my misplaced expectations. Back when I was a university student, a paper ticket was required to board a plane. I decided to save time and ordered my flight through a travel agency. I didn’t realize I was expected to actually pick up the ticket at the office. I assumed I could just pay for it at the airport counter where I was sure it would be waiting for me. Thank goodness most flights weren’t booked full in those days, and I could get still get home for Christmas break.
“That’s not how it works? I didn’t know.” No one likes to look foolish. And over the years I’ve had to laugh through way too many embarrassing moments or chuckled to myself as I quietly sat through meetings and lectures I’d mistakenly joined.
Working for several months for a temporary employment agency during our seminary years was a humbling experience. Oh, I had a college degree, but that didn’t count for much with some of the tasks I was given.
My ten-minute extra training at the main office didn’t prepare me for one job they sent me on. This office had a transcribing machine different from the one I had just learned on. Thinking I at least had the headset under control, I put it on under my chin like I’d been taught. Two gals calmly stood by as I struggled to keep it from falling off. No one giggled or pointed fingers. They did smile, however. And then they explained that with this particular model the headphones went on top of my head, not under my chin. I gave a quick laugh, assuming the role of humble student, while one kind secretary helped me put the confusing earphones on properly.
My attitude got me far with that group of talented women I would be working with for the next three weeks. And I learned that this was just the beginning of a wide array of office equipment I wasn’t trained to use. Faced with a variety of unexpected and sometimes confusing tasks during that year, I learned to humble myself honestly in the presence of competence, with a willing spirit to learn, expressing gratitude and extending compliments to others on their expertise and cleverness.
In later years, whenever I was blessed to have a teaching job, I kept this life lesson in mind. At the beginning of each school year, I always assured my students that each of them was better than I at something, and I expected I would learn from them. I just happened to be better at literature and composition, so I would be their teacher.
Faced with an unfamiliar task or finding ourselves in new surroundings, we sometimes flounder. We know we’re not ignorant. We’re not stupid. We’re just not informed. And too often we choose to avoid exposing ourselves to laughter and ridicule, sometimes just plowing forward in hopes we will figure it out somehow.
But we can also find ourselves on the other side of competence. We are the ones with the superior knowledge or knowhow, and we have the choice of how to handle our expertise. I wonder how many times I’ve snickered at someone, comfortable in my smug proficiency. Or joined in with others to mock someone’s desperate attempts. I only hope I’ve grown up considerably since those childish days.
That’s why I need to keep in mind how the Great Teacher, the Expert Leader, would react. He reminds me that I am His representative of His compassion. I should be the one sending someone to help… offering to ease the load, the burden. And perhaps lending a hand… actually offering my own time and energy.
During my seemingly endless years of schooling, I rejected the attitude of those teachers who seemed to delight in lording their knowledge over students. I know I cringed in the presence of a professor who reminded me of her superiority. Once I was on the other side of the desk, though, I had to constantly check my behavior to be sure I wasn’t assuming expected results from my directions or wasn’t making a student feel foolish in front of others.
That’s when I learned to model what I wanted. I took my class through practice test questions. I wrote paragraphs for my students on the overhead… in front of them… showing how I changed my ideas and resurrected thoughts I had originally rejected. Giving them an example to follow but not copy. Expecting them to choose their own topic, their own flavor, their own words. To really own the results.
It’s tough, though, when those we are leading or teaching insist on following their own way, making the same mistakes, running up against a wall. Oh yes, that can also be me at times, insisting on my stubborn ways. And I’m thankful for those who keep showing me a better option, a more useful path.
That’s also why God keeps sending me His message. He knows my headstrong ways, and He knows I need constant reminders of a better option, a safer avenue. After all He tells me, “I am the way and the truth and the life” (John 14:6).
And He doesn’t want me to appear foolish in my witness to that good news, even when His message of grace is foolishness to the world. He suffered humiliation so I can stand strong and confident in the face of ridicule for my trust in His promise.
Jesus doesn’t want us to embarrass ourselves. He doesn’t try to make us look foolish. We do a good enough job of that ourselves. And He doesn’t snicker when He sees us struggling with a task… especially the ultimate task of salvation.
No. He’s sorrowed by our attempts at perfection that will never be realized, results that He has taken care of for us. Just like an overly confident student, we’re sure we have our life all figured out. And He’s sad to see us exhaust ourselves when He’s made it so easy… when He has the expertise we so desperately need. The helping hand of love He extends to us. The gift He wants us to stop pushing away, thinking we know better.
No. It doesn’t make Him gloat with satisfaction to see our failed attempts, that expected result from our pointless efforts. His tears flow just as His saving blood did.
Thank goodness He doesn’t give up on hoping… begging us, His creation, to not only acknowledge Him but also to trust and believe in His power, His love, and His joyful gift of grace and eternal life. That truly is a result I can gladly accept… and expect!
Leaving my guilt at the cross,
First published on Lead Like Jesus website February 2017