What do you do when you are just not getting the results you hoped for?
You’re working hard and putting yourself out there, but the response from others is disappointing. You’re feeling more and more frustrated or discouraged. You want a different outcome, but you just can’t figure out what’s wrong or what to do differently. Maybe you’re getting angry, and you feel like lashing out. Perhaps you feel like giving up all together.
When I get in this kind of situation, as I did this past week, my first instinct is often reactive. I vacillate between going on the attack and wanting to quit. Yet, there is a third way.
It’s called “change.” First, I had to face the fact that my current approach to teaching my class was not working, and was not going to work. I had to try to see the situation through the eyes of my students, and imagine what they might be feeling and needing. I had to stop blaming others for the disappointing and frustrating situation, and start thinking creatively.
I had a choice to make. Would I stay stuck in my current feelings and just press through anyway? Or, would I step back to get a fresh perspective and be open to change?
Fortunately, I chose the latter approach. But this choice did not come without a fight. Within me, that is. I had to die to the teaching I wanted to give, and then I had to allow new ideas and different methods to surface. Specifically, I had to do at least ten things to make the shift.
- I took some time to be by myself, and avoided the temptation to take out my frustration on class members.
- I went for a long walk. (In this case, I had the opportunity of walking the labyrinth inside the Chartres Cathedral three times, surrounded by images of Jesus and other biblical characters.)
- I let off steam by muttering under my breath and by making faces for my wife’s camera. (By the way, if you want some comic relief, there’s a hilarious Youtube video on trying to herd cats that my son sent me. Let me know if you want the link.)
- I consciously let myself feel all of my feelings (frustration, disappointment, hurt, anger). I didn’t feed them, but neither did I try to talk myself out of them. I let the feelings surge within me. I named them, without judging them. At first they grew stronger, and then, over time, they started to lose their power and began to dissipate.
- I spent a long time journaling, and started this article hoping that by the end of the week I could really live into what I was going to recommend to you.
- Through all of this, I was praying. First complaining to God, then asking for help. What do I need to see here? What do I need to let go of? What can I do differently? What do my students most need, and what do they most need from me?
- I stood in front of Le Beau Dieu (The Beautiful God), a statue of Jesus on the south porch of the cathedral. I asked Jesus (not the statue) what he would do. Almost immediately my eyes fell to the Bible the Jesus figure was holding. The message seemed clear: get back to letting the class flow directly out of Scripture.
- I sat down and rethought the next teaching session from the beginning, based on the language, approach, and content the class members would find most helpful, instead of what I most wanted to teach them.
- I went out to dinner with friends to stop obsessing on the experience, but then got up at 5:30 a.m. the next morning to spend extra time thinking and praying before rejoining the rest of the group.
- Though my students had not done anything wrong, I forgave them for not being the way I wanted them to be, in order to clear away the negative feelings that grew out my reaction to them. I forgave myself for missing the mark with my teaching and not figuring out what they needed faster.
I’m not sure what kind of article you would have gotten if the class had bombed again! But it didn’t. The new attitude, new material, and new approach made a huge difference. Between my willingness to change, whatever spiritual work they had done unbeknownst to me, and the moving of the Holy Spirit, the teaching time flowed powerfully once again.
I still wish I could have taught what I wanted to teach, in the way I wanted to do it; but something else was needed in this context, with these particular students, at this unique time in their lives. Thank God, I was given the grace to make the needed changes in time—for their sake.
Paul (then known as Saul) spent a lot of time hurting God’s people, thinking he was working for God. However, when Jesus finally got his attention on the road to Damascus, Paul faced reality, surrendered his will to Christ’s, and started a new chapter in his spiritual journey and service to God. In his telling of the story, he said, “I asked, ‘What am I to do, Lord?’ The Lord said to me, ‘Get up and go to Damascus; there you will be told everything that has been assigned to you to do.’” (Acts 22:10, NRSV)
The point: Our work in the world is not about us. It’s about Christ, and what the Holy Spirit wants to do in us and through us for the sake of those we are called to serve. If something’s not working, we need to face reality, and make whatever changes are needed in order to get into the Spirit’s flow once again.