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Fighting is Good for the Soul

In some ways, teaching is like parenting in that we are trying to shape human beings, sometimes against or in spite of their wills, and certainly against their fallen natures. If you’ve been reading TSR for any length of time, you know that it can easily frustrate me, and does many other educators from time to time.

I came across an article today called, “Midnight in the Bedroom of Good and Evil,” which is worth reading for the title alone, that dealt with how parents (and educators, by extension) not only struggle against the resistance of their children, but how that creates a sympathetic eruption of their own fallen natures—selfishness, anger, frustration, irritability, and so on.

The author tells an account I will repeat here about a monk living among the Desert Fathers.

“These monks (and nuns) left the cities in the fourth and fifth centuries to live in the desert and devote themselves to prayer, fasting and humble living. I came across the story of John the Short who asked God to take away his temptations. John shared this with another hermit who told him, ‘Go and ask the Lord to stir up a new war inside of you. Fighting is good for the soul.’ The story goes that John’s inner conflict returned, and he no longer prayed for it to go away. Instead, he asked, ‘Lord, grant me strength to endure this fight.’”

That’s not exactly the sort of encouragement one is generally looking for…which is probably authentication that it is Biblical. God tends to encourage us through despair, bring us down through victory, and give us patience through increased irritation.

The logic seems to go like this:  the fact that you are fighting something tells you there is a conflict within you about whether something is right or wrong. Take the time to examine which side is which, and put your effort into the right side, and you will develop strength there and the other will weaken.

We aren’t commanded to tame our sinful nature. We are commanded to crucify it. Thus, I am severely tempted to put signs up at home and in the office, “Fighting is Good for the Soul,” as a reminder that my well-worn path to frustration and irritability is an indication that the old nature is neither tamed nor crucified, and needs to be fought…again.

It isn’t a problem in or with the students, it is a problem with my understanding of the manner in which I am to live my life. What is my purpose and how does that manifest itself regardless of the situation? It isn’t just a matter of what I do or say, it is the manner in which I do it, the state of my heart. Am I strangling my students mentally as I help them find the bolded statement in the syllabus they did not bother to read?

One of the strangest aspects of being good at something like teaching is somehow being passionate about it, while at the same time not getting emotionally involved in the potholes. I really haven’t figured that one out completely, yet somehow I’m trying to practice that. There are many things in life we are able to do even when their mechanisms are incomprehensible. Rather amazing.

Most of the time, people aren’t trying to irritate or frustrate us. It is just an innate talent humans have for having another’s baser nature to come into conflict with our own. I think the problem is that we have an expectation that people will act with their higher natures and so are surprised when they don’t. It gets worse when we have subconsciously allowed our baser nature to direct some of our steps, expecting to get away with it as long as everyone else behaves, and when that doesn’t happen, conflict is born.

Thus, by fighting our own baser nature, wrestling it to the Cross, our higher nature is in charge, and has the ability to glide around or through the effects of others’ with somewhat greater ease and peace. We expect obstacles because we are in a fallen world, and so allow for them and don’t take them as personal attacks on our agendas, timetables and ambitions. It is emotionally freeing, leading to internal peace and a reservoir of healthy emotional abundance with which we can bless others, even while correcting them appropriately.

I’ve seen it work just enough to know it is both possible and real. There is still some (a lot!) work ahead before it is my habit.


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