On Teaching Lambs

I lie awake at night, overwhelmed with the fear that I am participating in the greatest and most dangerous hubris, to think that I should teach.

When I took my job at Houston Baptist University I knew, of course, that teaching was entailed. I love teaching, or so I thought. Turns out, what I have loved is watching people learn. Teaching is another thing altogether, a thing fraught with peril.

John Mark Reynolds, Holly Ordway, and I are partnering in a new podcast (soon to be released by HBU). We recently discussed the subject of teaching, and John Mark described himself as teacher as merely, “a cruise director on the Love Boat of knowledge.” I laughed at him at the time (obviously), but then feared that I was not worthy to do even this, to point out the many splendors of the world as we sail by.

English: Houston Baptist University

For who is? What could possibly qualify one to take young souls and minds into their hands and say, “Look here: this is worth knowing”? I think mostly we just choose people who are a bit smarter than the rest of us, but oh my goodness is that an inadequate qualification.

I’ve been teaching a class on heroic literature to eight high-schoolers this semester. They’re all brilliant, funny, thoughtful and opinionated. Our classes are Socratic and based on the Great Books, which means it’s my job to help my students discuss some of the greatest pieces of literary art man has created and the biggest ideas he’s put on paper. Next semester I will be teaching seven classes of who knows how many students. This terrifies me.

I’ve had enough experience as a student of classical education to know that if my students are engaged (which they are), their minds and lives are being transformed. I also know that there is no guarantee that this will make their lives less painful, or more successful, or their faith more clear and solid (especially at the beginning). My heart aches with love for them and with desire for their flourishing, but so much is out of my hands. My job seems to be to say, “hey! Look at that!” and hope they do well with the rest of the journey. Thinking about it too much makes me want to jump on the next plane to Mexico, never to return.

And who knows, I may not have been able to force myself back on a plane to Houston come January, but for Saturday night. Saturday night I attended a performance of Handel’s Messiah. I’ve long loved this piece of miraculous music, and it reveals itself to me in new ways every year. This year my eyes filled with tears during one of my favorite pieces. As the Alto sang,

He shall feed his flock like a shepherd,

and he shall gather the lambs with his arm,

and carry them in his bosom,

and gently lead those who are with young

I thought, oh thank God, I can keep teaching.

The aria continues,

Come unto him all ye that labor,

Come unto him ye that are heavy laden,

and he will give you rest.

Take his yoke upon you and learn from him,

for he is meek and lowly of heart,

and ye shall find rest for your souls.

I think this is what Paul must mean when he writes to the Philippians that they can do anything through Christ who strengthens them. It is not a statement of infinite power, but of a shared yoke, a mutual burden, and a lowly heart who is willing to teach you as you walk together.

I am not a mother, but I am with young, and I feel the burden of it keenly. I could never dare be a teacher without knowing—absolutely, completely knowing—that He leads us lambs wherever we may go, and cares about His young. This Christmas season, I am starting to understand, and to thank, a God who assures us, over and over, that He does.

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  • Jon Mueller

    Sounds to me as if they’re in good hands, Heavenly and otherwise.

    • Cate MacDonald

      Thank you, Jon. I hope better hands will soon be coming to help.