My oldest child took his ACT for the first time last December. It was a practice run – he’s young, and the days of college entrance exams are a bit ahead of us yet, but it was a good exercise for him to see what the test would be like, the setting, format, what to do when your last pencil breaks, working within a timed limit… You see, most of his life has been spent in school at home, and we just don’t do a lot of tests with timers and bubbles and such.
Before he went to the test, we did what we could to prepare him. He took ACT practice tests, practiced 20-minute essays, and read about testing strategies. Since scores don’t really matter at his age, the greatest areas of anxiety involved the setting – an unfamiliar school, unknown (and much older) students, how the “rules” about talking, bathroom breaks, etc. would be interpreted. Stuff like that.
When he was preparing to take this test, we made an effort to discover the material it would cover, and then we had him study it. We also prepared him for questions for which he had no idea – eliminate possibilities, then just guess. We went so far as to tell him, “If you don’t know, just pick ‘C.'” (I didn’t want him to spend a lot of time on questions above his level and run out of time for ones he had a shot at answering.) So, he had a plan for how to handle everything we could think of that he might encounter.
Everyday I wake up to a test, too.
I am going to answer the questions of my day with some past knowledge – and honestly, sometimes I will have to guess. The thing is, this test isn’t filling in bubbles completely with a #2 pencil. This test is all about applied knowledge. We’re talking word problems. Ugh!
So much of life is word problems. And I’m not just talking about the need to learn fractions for doubling recipes or knowing how to divide so you can tell if you can make it to the next exit for gas or need to stop now. These things are important, but I’m talking about less concrete aspects of life, where no math skills are required.
There are all kinds of skills and pieces of knowledge that I need to be able to address the problems that arise throughout my day. And I will not be able to apply knowledge or discipline to solving them if I have not been trained with appropriate knowledge and skill.
- I cannot apply the skill of patience if I have not studied it thoroughly before I need it .
- I cannot separate out which threads of an emotional exchange are needed to solve a problem if I am not trained to understand emotions.
- I cannot respond to an interruption to my plans with grace if I have not been trained in flexibility.
- I cannot maintain a schedule regardless of what I feel like doing if I have not practiced discipline.
- I cannot offer wisdom to the confused, comfort to the aching, counsel to the wayward, help to the needy, courage to the fearful, rest for the weary, or confidence to the abashed if I have not been trained to do so.
The good news is, my whole life has trained me for the word problems I will face today. And God has overseen my whole life. There is a very real chance that my previous life experience gives me some training for my present life experience. Perhaps that is part of how “we know that for those who love God all things work together for good.” (Romans 8:28) As he redeems our past, we see how it prepared us for our present. As we engage our present, we know it is preparing us for our future. Being prepared is good.
Our experience alone isn’t enough to do well on the test, though. We need our experiences redeemed by grace and interpreted through the lens of scripture. We also need the Holy Spirit, regular study of God’s ways through his word, and to seek the advice of godly people who have gone before us. It takes a lot to prepare for the test.
But the best part? We don’t have to take the test in silence with a clock ticking ominously on the wall. Our tests are all group projects, collaborative efforts.
Christ calls us into fellowship with the Father and the Son through the Holy Spirit. And he sets us in families and in churches for mutual support, encouragement, and course correction.
Yes, I wake up to a test every day. But it is a test for which my Father has prepared me, and a test he promises to see me through every step of the way. My part? Show up ready to study and ready to answer lots of questions with his grace. And I can always fall back on that sage advice, “If you don’t know, just pick ‘C.'” <<Christ>>