“It’s funny. In school you’re taught a lesson, then given a test. But in life, you’re given a test that teaches you a lesson.” –Unknown Author
I am a recovering test addict. It’s a sickness really. In college and graduate school (when I got to choose what I would be studying), I loved taking tests. I loved studying for them with my color-coded highlighter system, tabbies for my books, perfectly crisp notebook with succinct notes, and let’s not forget my all time favorite studying tool – flashcards. My husband and I would try to study together in college. I would be dutifully writing key notes in my margins and color coding them according to topic so I could refer to them later; all the while, my husband was systematically chucking things at me to break my concentration while sprawled on the couch with his book closed, one word written on his notebook. (What can I say – opposites attract!) It wasn’t just the studying part I loved. I loved the anticipation of walking into the testing room, taking that test from my professor and showing (off) what I knew. In classes where we were given the answer key to check our own work, if a professor’s answer differed from mine I would launch into a lengthy defense as to why MY answer was correct, with my supported color-coded tabs and outlines. (I realize by admitting this I am at risk as losing some of my readers! But, confession salves the soul.) I am sure that some of this really was for the love of learning. But there was another component. It was predictable, achievable, and measurable. I knew what to study, when to do it, and could easily ascertain my success by the grade at the top of my paper. It was safe. Clear-cut. Not at all messy. It was not… real life.
I am finding real life doesn’t care what information I can regurgitate or how brilliantly I can craft the answer to an essay question. Real life gives us tests on surprise topics and at unknown times. I always hated pop quizzes! That was so cheating. Well, God apparently looooooooves pop quizzes and doesn’t care a bit if I have my flashcards in order. And the irony of the quote above is that the test (the circumstance) is not so much the point as the lessons we learn from it – what kind of person we become on the other side.
The past month has been one test after another. Painful medical procedures, long stays in bed again, missing my children, an awful emergency room visit, a catheter and “pee bag” (You didn’t think I’d let you get through a blog post without some reference to my family’s pooping and peeing, did you?) and utter dependence on others for the most basic human needs. Today I am feeling restless under the constraining hand of illness and am tempted to have a temper tantrum. I am fighting emotions of guilt, disappointment, grief, and frustration. In fact, I’m a little angry. Not sure at what exactly, but it’s there.
But, that’s okay. There is time for my temper tantrum. God can take it. Yet, at the end I still have to get up and deal with what is. When I was a young child I was a curly blonde-haired, blue-eyed terror — especially when things didn’t go my way. My tantrums were the stuff of legends. I would throw myself down on the grocery store floor over a box of animal crackers – kicking and screaming. My mother would try to pick me up and I would suddenly become a boneless, flaccid jelly fish. (A talent my children have unfortunately inherited.) Finally, my mother would walk away to the next aisle and leave me to have my fit. Eventually, I would look around and realize she had moved on and I was alone. I’d huff and puff but finally get up off the ground, realizing I had to move on even if animal crackers were not in my future. I may have stubbornly stomped after my mother with daggers in my eyes, but I would follow.
I realize that while I have gotten much better at hiding my tantrums, and you won’t find me on the floor of your local grocery store, there is still a little girl inside of me ready to collapse with frustration when I am faced with life’s little (and big) injustices. And, that’s okay. I can close my bedroom door and cry out to God. But, then it is time to get up off the floor, brush myself off and move on with the journey. Because the journey is the test. Our days are filled with one test after another and most days we don’t get a syllabus outlining what they are going to be. The only way we can prepare for them is by striving every day to stay connected to our Creator – the window into our true self. It’s not about how well we perform but who we become in the process. This life is a test. But the lessons are our legacy.