Ten years later
What were you doing ten years ago today? Chances are most of us don’t have a specific idea, but maybe a vague recollection of what we were doing. I can tell you that it was a Wednesday. 3652 days (there have been two leap years) ago, and I remember it like it was yesterday. That’s what happens with life-transforming days.
Late February was contract-renewal time at the school where I was teaching back in 2009. I had been teaching 6th graders math and science for seven years, and every previous contract-renewal meeting had been the same. “Donnie, we know you really want to teach just math, but we need you to teach science for another year because the school’s not ready to add a 4th section to sixth grade.” I had heard that for several years, but this year was going to be different. The Board of Trustees had already determined that the 6th grade was going to expand, so I knew that the phrase “6th Grade Science” was not going to appear on my contract, just “6th Grade Math”. This meeting was going to be different than all the others.
I had no clue how different.
When the associate headmaster walked past me as I waited and went into the principal’s office, I thought, “Huh, that’s weird. I bet this meeting is about to get rescheduled because there must be something going on.” But then the principal came out of her office and welcomed me in. Uh-oh.
“I cannot recommend that you receive a contract for next year.”
I was not expecting to hear that. Now, let me say that I am not going to claim to have been a perfect teacher. I am also not going to use this blogpost to rant against anyone at my past job. No point in that. It took me some time, but I did get past the initial anger and bitterness that I felt as a result of being let go. That’s not what this post is about.
You may think you know what’s coming next. Maybe you expect me to reference Romans 8;28 (“God works all things for the good …”) or Jeremiah 29:11 (“I know the plans I have for you …”). And if I did that, it would be a quality blogpost that references God’s care for us.
But that’s not where we’re going. If you’ve been around CCF Dinner and a Message the last couple weeks, that would be a good “grace and kind” blogpost, but this one is going to be more of a “truth and good” blogpost.
You see, I had made that job – teaching kids math at that school – an idol. No question about it. That was what I had always wanted to do. When I started my studies in math ed at UGA, it was so I could teach there one day. That was the goal, the dream. Now there is nothing wrong with having goals and dreams, but you have to be careful that they don’t turn into idols.
The problem with idols is that the most dangerous ones aren’t bad things; they are morally neutral or even good things. The three most dangerous idols in my life are Beth, Lexie, and Kerrington. They are tremendous gifts that God has given me, but if I elevate them to a place that they do not belong, I have turned them into an idol. Even though they are good things in my life, they can be idols.
As for how morally neutral things become idols, I present UGA football. There is nothing good or bad about UGA football, but if you don’t think it can be an idol, I would suggest that it might be one for you.
If the word “idol” doesn’t sit well with you, you can think about it as a misplaced priority. It’s making something more important than it should be. It’s putting something on a pedestal that it has no place being on. It’s making a good thing an ultimate thing.
That job could have been a good thing, but I had turned it into an ultimate thing. Honestly, it scares me a bit to think about what might have happened had I had the chance to have my idol. I wonder how having that job would have changed me, what I may have been willing to do to keep it.
So here’s the challenge for each of us:
If you’re not really into the whole prayer thing, I would encourage you to take some time to think about your priorities, your goals, your dreams. Make sure you haven’t put something on a pedestal where it shouldn’t be. Make sure to keep the main thing the main thing.
If you are the praying kind, ask God to show you the things in your life that you have or are close to elevating to idol status. Ask Him to show you the things that you have put in a place where only He belongs. Fair warning – if you ask, He will show you. And you may not like what He points out, but I promise you that if you’ll pay attention to what He shows you and ask Him to either remove the idols Himself (which He did in my case ten years ago) or help you to put them in their proper place, He will respond. Then, while it may take some time, you’ll see that His way is much better!
How can I be so sure? Because I typed this at my desk at this big blue house on Milledge that I probably never would have walked into if that meeting 10 years ago would have gone how I wanted, and now this big blue house is home.