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What Kind of (Spiritual) Student Are You?

The classroom--and the education process overall--provide good metaphors for different facets of life. Several thousands of students have entered my classroom over my 20 years. Most of them survive. Most of them.

I've come across different types of students who can illuminate a faith journey. One type of student works hard for her education, recognizing that each assignment, test, and course brings her one step closer in the education process. Perhaps one time in her education her life goes completely haywire. She misses the deadline for a major project in one class, and, seeing the zero sink her grade, she pleads to the professor for an extension. Seeing that the student has worked hard throughout the course and made an earnest plea for an extension, the professor grants it. Feeling the sigh of relief, she works diligently to complete the project.

Another type of student kisses up to the professor. He sits in the front of the class and praises her among his classmates. He tells the professor how much he loves the class and how much he's learning, but he does no work. He still attends every single class, paying close attention to her every word, but doesn't complete the assignments, doesn't study for tests, and doesn't read the textbook. Or perhaps he might open the textbook and just highlight the definitions and anything in bold type.

A third type of student believes she's a good student, but she doesn't attend class much. In fact, she might put her effort into classes that "matter" to her, but for some classes, she puts forth minimal effort. When an assignment is due, she asks for an extension. The professor grants it once, but even so, the effort is weak. The next assignment arrives, and she asks for another extension. The professor grants it, but with a late penalty. After a third, the professor doesn't grant it at all, and the student receives a zero.

Which student succeeds? Which student gets an education?

The first one works towards her education, even if she makes an honest slip. She learns from her mistake of letting her life drive her away from her goal of getting an education. She makes the necessary adjustments to her life so she can continue her journey.

The second one might be passively getting an education because he is at least attending class. He can't move forward with his education because he won't do the work. Simply believing in the professor isn't enough. He has to do some work outside of class to complete his education.

The third student fails to learn from her mistakes. Rather than seeing how her life is imbalanced, she blames it on the one class that doesn't matter. Because she doesn't see this class as important, she also doesn't see that by putting off the work necessary, she'll remain stuck.

The faith journey is like this. There are some hard courses in life.

The third student wants to focus on the fun courses in life, such as practices that make her happy. The trials and tribulations we face are the ones where the lessons are most profound. Not only do we learn from that single experience, but we use that experience to teach how to deal with subsequent experiences like it. The third student just wants to bypass these experiences, asking for one extension after the other. The faith journey isn't all about the happy, fun practices. Sometimes it involves the mundane and the tedious because they make us more resilient.

The second student is like the ones who believe in the "one and done" experience. If they just believe in God, that's enough. This student might attend church every week and participate, but once he leaves the church, the lessons fall away. He isn't doing the work necessary outside of class to put his faith into practice, and he easily forgets him until the next "class."

The first student lives a life of earnest faith. She sees every class, every experience, and every project as a small part of shaping her faith. She knows that she makes mistakes, but she learns from each of them.

God forgives us for our mistakes, and sometimes He graces us with an extension. However, we shouldn't expect it. We should be prepared to accept the zero--the consequences of our messing up--and learn from our mistakes. This means recognizing what pulls us off the path. What attachments or desires lure us away from what's best for us? Do we see patterns in our mistakes, or do we just blow them off like another assignment in a class, and wonder why we continue to fail?

Just believing in Christ is one thing. That's a start. That's a good start. But eventually we have to put our faith into practice, which means dismantling the patterns and behaviors of our false self. Repentance means recognizing our actions as disordered and turning away from them so we don't continue that path. Ultimately, it's a change of consciousness (metanoia), of turning towards the light.

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