I had good reason. My second grade teacher, Mrs. Fenimore was short and petite, but intimidating nonetheless.
She created an environment where students quaked in fear of asking questions. She would routinely berate and humiliate anyone who inquired about anything she deemed to be easily understandable.
The fact that we were eight years old didn’t factor into the equation.
I remember her once banishing me to sit on the floor in a corner of the classroom—after scolding me harshly and loudly to “think harder” about a math concept. “You should know how to do this by now, Melinda!”
This was her idea of encouraging critical thinking. Well, at least she got the “critical” part right.
One quarter she wrote on my report card, “Melinda gets upset over any new direction, no matter how simple. This hurts her working abilities.”
Umm … yes. Living in utter terror of making mistakes does indeed hurt your working abilities.
Little did I know back then that this would become a running theme throughout my life.
Early experiences like the ones I had with Mrs. Fenimore reinforced my already driven, perfectionistic, people-pleasing personality and tendencies.
She wasn’t the first or the last authority figure to send the message that my worthiness was tied to my performance. Later, I spent a number of years at a strict, legalistic Christian school. In many ways they helped build my faith head knowledge. I am so grateful for that.
But what my young, impressionable, perfection-driven heart received was the message that God was far more interested in rule-following than relationship-building. I developed a view of Him as an unrelenting Taskmaster. He wasn’t looking for me to do right. He was looking for me to do wrong. Like Mrs. Fenimore, I believed He was nearly impossible to please.
I learned well that He was a God of rules and justice.
What I so desperately needed was to internalize His grace and mercy.
For years, I dreaded any task that I didn’t already know how to do, and do well. The unknown was far too unpredictable. Mistakes meant God would punish me—or at the very least withhold things from me.
In essence, it meant that all outcomes rested on my shoulders. I had to “get it right.” If I didn’t, I only had myself to blame.
Better to stay inside the lines. I became a cautious, but driven rule-follower.
I chased hard after the elusive carrot of perfection in order to avoid the painful sting of rejection.
But following unbending rules without experiencing life-giving relationship with Jesus is an exhausting soul-robbing exercise in futility. I could never measure up. And even when I did, any aura of approval would quickly fade.
Over and over again, I’ve driven myself to mental and physical exhaustion trying to do all the right things, so I can achieve all the right results. Inevitably, I crash and burn.
Each time, Jesus meets me in the ashes. Not to condemn me. Not to tell me to get my act together. Not to scold me to “think harder” about how to get it right.
No. Each time He gently peels away another layer of lies I’ve believed about Him. He lovingly strips another layer of my stubborn self-sufficiency.
He reveals to me a new facet of His love and sweetness. He gives me new insights and revelations and shows me a better way. He tells me, “Don’t follow the rules. Follow Me.”
You’ll notice this is all present tense. I am still very much on this grace and mercy journey. I crash and burn less often, but I am still learning from the Master.
There is a reason why Jesus was called Teacher so many times in the Bible. In fact, of the 90 times Jesus was addressed directly in the gospels, 60 times he was called Teacher.
A good teacher instructs you. He or she takes you patiently through the task step by step.
Mark 6:34 tells us, “… He saw a large crowd, and He felt compassion for them because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and He began to teach them many things.”
He felt compassion for them. And how did He express that compassion? He began to teach them many things. Dr. R.C. Sproul writes in his commentary Mark, “When Jesus set out to feed His sheep, He taught them.”
God doesn’t tell us all the answers, but He already knows the answers and how to get us there. He doesn’t withhold instruction from those who are willing to learn (even when it takes numerous “crash and burn” moments to learn the lessons).
A good teacher makes the complex understandable. A good teacher views mistakes and disobedience as teaching moments and opportunities for a student to grow.
Jesus is a Good Teacher.
He understands that certain tasks can seem particularly overwhelming to us. Making hard choices. Doing something new or something that seems beyond our abilities. I’ve often found that the most daunting tasks are the ones we didn’t choose. The ones that chose us. The ones where completion seems elusive. And the stakes are high.
For example, I have tried in vain to find the answer for how to live an entire lifetime with chronic pain. I’ve tried to figure out how to address the challenges of parenting my special needs child—five or ten years down the road.
I think preparing for all outcomes and getting it all right will bring me peace. But it only wears me out. It makes me feel safe and in control. But both are an illusion—often shattered by the unexpected.
This is what a gentle Jesus keeps telling me: “Today. This moment. Let’s concentrate on what I’ve asked you to do right now. Focus on Me, not the task. Your job is obedience. My job is outcomes. I’m not asking you to do tomorrow’s tasks. I’m already there. I know the answer. I’ll meet you when you get there and give you what you need.”
The task is overwhelming. The task seems scary. Just ask Peter. He was doing fine walking on water as long as his focus was on Jesus. As soon as his attention shifted to the task, he had to break out the scuba gear.
When I focus on the Teacher, not the task, I feel peace.
Instead of fear, I feel fierce. Bold. Because I know the outcome and the journey is led by someone far wiser, stronger and more capable than I am. Someone who loved me enough to die for me–even though I didn’t do a single thing to be worthy of it.
The task doesn’t change, but my perspective does.
Slowly but surely, I am learning to follow and trust the Master Teacher.
He’s not a taskmaster, friends. He’s the Master of tasks.