the winding path (or, why I don’t want an accelerated faith).

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Teacher meetings are full of words like gamification, personalized learning, remediation, and flipped classrooms, but we hardly ever take the time to think about what these words convey to ourselves or to others. Recently a coworker pointed out that we talk about students who are “accelerated” but that the problem with that word is that we seem to believe that an “accelerated” 7th grade math student should proceed to 8th grade math. In reality, the 7th grade math student who has mastered the concepts should be encouraged to dig deeper into 7th grade math rather than going on to the next thing. I see this in reading, too, because a 4th grader might be able to comprehend the words in The Great Gatsby, but that doesn’t mean she should read it yet. Rather than being a sign of weakness, exploring the same concepts in new ways builds a firm foundation.

But we want results. This is the way we expect things to go in America, not just in education but also in our lives, one goal after another checked off the list. When are you going to declare a major? When are you going to graduate? When are you going to get a job? When are you going to get married? When are you going to have a kid? When are you going to buy a house? A bigger house? A newer car? Have another kid? Get a better job? In other words, Isn’t it time for you to level up?

For many years, a toxic combination of my personality and our culture and the messages I got at church caused me to approach the spiritual side of life with this same “level up” mentality. Rather than seeing it as a winding road that sometimes turns back on itself, I attacked faith like a mountain to climb, or, since I am not much for hiking, like Donkey Kong. I was sure that I would reach the pinnacle if I just kept going. I packed my bag with all the right resources: memorizing the books of the Bible and then certain verses and even some chapters. I trained by starting a prayer group and facilitating a Bible study group and being on leadership in my campus ministry. I lamented the ways I felt I was behind. I worried that other people wouldn’t know how hard I was working.

Worst of all, I never seemed to get anywhere and I became resentful when all the things I was doing never seemed to be enough. I was trying to be an accelerated student of God and to have answers for all of life’s mysteries, not so I could learn anything, but because I wanted to have learned everything.

Last year I started walking a local labyrinth occasionally, and it has helped me do more than just pray. The path twists and turns and looks as if it might be going in the wrong direction. Speeding up doesn’t enhance the experience, but being present in the moment does. It’s not a display of weakness to follow the curve again and again and again.

When we talk to Atticus about God, I don’t talk to him about being good. I (try to) resist the temptation to draw conclusions from Bible stories. Instead, I hope he sees that our lives and our faith are about experiencing the world rather than achieving mastery of it or accelerating our way through it. The past two years I have spent a lot of time reading about things I thought I already knew, and humbling myself has brought new understanding rather than boredom. We cannot approach the relationships in our lives like checklists, and participating in a life of faith is no different. There are new things to learn even from old experiences, old Bible verses, an old faith. Let’s dig deep and revisit that foundation often rather than pretending that we can leave it behind.

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  1. […] So I really appreciated my friend Kari’s thoughts on the same subject, in a blog post she called “The Winding Path (or, why I don’t want an accelerated faith)&…: […]