Teaching in 2014: This One Thing I Need

Like probably many of you, I have arrived at the time of year where my thoughts look back at the grace and blessing provided while also looking ahead at what is to come. And part of properly jump-starting this next 365-day period are choices that make me more effective and wiser…you know, important things like “I will eat more homemade chocolate chip cookies this year.” In some senses, a new year is like a fresh canvas on which to paint. It is renewal.

Photo courtesy of samuiblue | FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Photo courtesy of samuiblue | FreeDigitalPhotos.net

I believe we as educators easily fall into margin-less living. One book that is definitely on my re-read list for 2014 is Margin, by Richard A. Swenson. In it he defines margin as “the space between our load and our limits. [It] is the gap between rest and exhaustion, the space between breathing freely and suffocating.” I identify.

As educators, we all tend to pitch our tents in the “Land of No Margin” and sometimes just go ahead and build a home! But one idea that I am mulling over is the simple notion of solitude. A few weeks back, when the semester had finished and break had started, the house was empty and I decided to just stay home and sit in front of the fire, read the Scriptures, pray, and just think.

My mind often feels like a hard drive that needs to be de-fragmented. All of the information is there somewhere, but bits and bytes are scattered around my brain in no coherent organization. When it was time to finally get into my day, I realized how renewed I felt just having solitude as a small part of my day.

I love those who can say in one sentence what takes me multiple paragraphs, and C.S. Lewis is one of those – brilliant and thought-provoking. I read a weighty quote of his that served as the catalyst for this post. Lewis stated that “we live, in fact, in a world starved for solitude, silence, and private: and therefore starved for meditation and true friendship.”

Meditation is hard pressed to be found in our fast-food pace of life. “Yes, I’d like, uh, two minutes of meditation, and hmm, let’s hold the solitude. And yes, supersize that order, please.” Like a fast-food experience, I feel full in the short-term, but indulging myself in that lifestyle will leave me winded and lethargic in the long-term.

I understand the pace we live. I get up, get on the “moving sidewalk,” and before I know it, the day is over and I am wondering what was accomplished.

My time in front of the fire was a microcosm of what is desperately needed in my life this year: solitude and plain ole time to think. A few moments to ponder life intentionally and then make decisions that are healthy for me and my classroom. Guard your mental and spiritual health. And then let the overflow influence your students. That is teaching.

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7 thoughts on “Teaching in 2014: This One Thing I Need

  1. What a great post! This lesson of resting and solitude is one I struggle to learn, even though I would like to master the idea. Scripture talks of Sabbath rest and so often of resting in the Lord. And yet, I tend to run ahead too often without that extra reflective time. Thanks for the gentle reminder!

    Happy New Year!

    • I agree, Vicki. And I find the less I take time to “take in the landscape,” the more I seem to just run around aimlessly. The TRUTH does indeed set us free but we just have to make the right choices each day. Thank for the comment and happy new year to you!

  2. You mention “meditation and true friendship” and you speak a little on how meditation can be improved and how it can help with your classroom; however, you didn’t touch on “true friendship” after mentioning it. Could you expound upon that?

    • This is a good question, Blane, and I appreciate your comments. At first glance, it does seem somewhat odd to link together solitude, silence, and private with authentic friendship. I believe Lewis was very insightful with his comment. I do see in my own life that a lack of periodic solitude is not healthy for me – physically, mentally, or spiritually. Without solitude, I tend to just be a “reactor” – reacting to everything around me instead of being intentional with my living. Solitude allows me time to reflect on my life and make course adjustments along the way.

      So let me get to your question about “true friendship.” And let me use an example that we are all familiar with…social media. By no means am I a Luddite so please do not take my comments as hating technology. I don’t. In fact I use it and embrace it. But like with everything new in life, there are potential pitfalls if left unmarked or unguarded.

      Take Facebook for example. I have 749 “friends.” Truth be told, I accept most friend requests to get more readership on my blog. Of these 749 “friends,” most are not. And that is not a critical statement but most are just acquaintances at best. And I do not care to keep up with all of them. I do not spend much time on Facebook because too many posts fall under the category of “who cares” or cotton-candy type information.

      With that being said, I view my students that I teach and many live in an arena of being constantly connected through social media and their life easily slips into friendship being equated with how they are validated (# likes on a post) or keeping up with frivolous news. Granted, I admit that I enjoy keeping up with my kids, family, and close friends to just see what they are up to. But Facebook (and other social media) does not demand the hard work of solitude and “alone-ness.” Ask many of my students – they can have hundreds of “friends” and yet feel very alone.

      And so solitude is not measured by the fact of just being by myself, though that is a part of it. I believe what Lewis is referring to is the art of removing the noise of the world, getting alone, and thinking – thinking how to course-correct, how to re-calibrate, and how to be renewed. Because it is in these times that I truly begin to understand and remember what is to be valued…and it is people. As I find “silence” the noise of the world quits having its pull and I can be intentional about my life and the people that I care for most.

      My truest friends are those on which I have taken time to ponder upon and learn about them and their needs, to invest in them as they invest in me, and reach out to their soul. And it is not a large number of people in my life that truly fall into this category. But for this to happen I need what Lewis calls “solitude, silence, and private.”

      For me, solitude is not just being alone – though I enjoy that – but it is resetting my thinking and that is usually occurring through reading the Scriptures and prayer and not while being on the moving sidewalk of life. And through that time my thinking gets adjusted and I understand (for example) how to pursue my wife more intentionally or reach out to a friend who is in need. It is in these times that we experience what Lewis calls “true friendship.”

      One pitfall of social media is that in constantly being connected even in alone time, my mind is still distracted. I need inputs of TRUTH and not so much just reading the latest post. And again, please do not take my comments as against social media. I am just using an example.

      I apologize for my ramblings, but you asked a good question, and I found myself having to think through a response because it did not just come easily. And one reason I did not address this in my post is because I try to keep my posts 500 words or less so that people will read them – we are all too busy to read a never-ending monologue. 🙂

      I hope what I said made sense, Blane – if not, please push back and I will try to be more clear, Happy new year. Thanks again for the comment on this post. I appreciate it.

      • You mentioned what you believe “solitude” is referring to. What do you think “silence, and private” are?

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