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The Education of Henry Adams (5) – No Man Ever Judges Himself Correctly

Henry Adams spent the better part of a decade teaching at Harvard College. He was well-loved by his students and well-respected by his colleagues; by all accounts he was a very gifted teacher. Yet here is what he had to say about himself:

“He [Adams] was rejoiced [at the gratitude of his students]; but he sometimes doubted whether they should be grateful. On the whole, he was content neither with what he had taught nor the way he had taught it. The seven years had passed in teaching seemed to him lost. . . . As a professor, he regarded himself as a failure. . . . He had tried a great many experiments, and wholly succeeded in none. He had succumbed to the weight of the system. He had accomplished nothing that he tried to do.”

From the dawn of time people have been comparing themselves with others (c.f. ‘my sacrifice is just as good as Abel’s…). In every age and in every society there has always been pressure to enter “the rat race” and “keep up with the Joneses.” And that pressure has certainly been magnified in our age and culture. Given social media we could all literally spend every waking hour for the rest of our lives looking at creative things people make, seeing the neat ways parents spend time with their kids, etc. Instead of inspiring us, this generally leads to malaise—we feel inadequate, like we don’t measure up, and we worry that we are letting our kids down. These feelings can paralyze us—why try if others can do these things so much better?

Given that we at Charis all play a larger than normal role in our children’s education there is an acute temptation to fall into this trap. “How on earth does family X get everything done so fast? It takes us all day!” “Family Y sure doesn’t seem to have to deal with bad attitudes like we do, what are we doing wrong?” It is easy for us in our role as co-teachers to feel, like Henry Adams, as absolute and irredeemable failures.

The fact is we never judge ourselves correctly. What is more, we aren’t called to judge ourselves at all! We are called to do what God calls us to do and to trust that His grace will be sufficient to empower us to do what He has called s to do. That is our responsibility; that is our task. We are to do it to the best of our ability and onto the Lord, but we are not called to do it better than anyone else or to worry how we stack up vis-à-vis our peers. God calls us to act faithfully; outcomes lie with Him. Only in taking our eyes off of ourselves and our perceived successes and failures can we live faithfully and accomplish the good works that “God has prepared in advance for us.”