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Ask the Pastor

† Theological musings and answers to selected questions by a confessional Lutheran pastor.

01 April 2008

Making the Grade in Life: A Student’s Struggles

Q: I am a Christian, and have been all my life. My faith is being tested as I go through some hard times with family, school, and friends. I attend a rigorous high school and am pressured to do well there. The added stress of the “typical Asian” parents is always on my back. Also, as my brother is applying to colleges, my parents are getting into many fights over him. I pray every day that God would bring peace and happiness to my family. I have done so for many years. I also pray that He help me through these hard times. But I do not feel reassured. I still pray multiple times a day — but when will these problems be solved? And why is it me that has to go through all these troubles?

A: Dear friend in Christ, much of what you experience is common to many high school students. Along with the stresses peculiar to each of us, adolescence itself usually adds its own struggles as our bodies and minds undergo a final period of rapid and often chaotic change before settling down into their adult states.

Yet because each of us is different, even the changes we share are experienced differently. Boys as a group react differently than do girls. Inherited traits and learned behavior can help or hinder our ability to cope with each new challenge. As you hint with your carefully placed quotation marks, our families often provide both a base for our coping strategies and much of the stress with which we must cope.

Of course, the quotation marks also show that you recognize that even a “typical Asian” family isn’t typical — every family is unique, no matter how much it may resemble another. Years ago, before large numbers of immigrants came from the Far East, other groups here in the United States faced somewhat similar stereotypes.

While the early colleges were established by English colonists or their descendants, other immigrant groups started earning reputations as no-nonsense scholars. For a variety of reasons, including a well-established school system on the Continent, the children and grandchildren of German immigrants were often at the forefront of academic success stories. Like the later generations coming from Asia, these people came in large groups, had a history of hard work and devoted studying, were initially isolated by language, often had different religious beliefs, and wanted to escape being kept at the bottom of America’s economic ladder.

Many Jewish immigrants, particularly those from Germany and Central Europe, were similarly stereotyped. Their burden was even more severe because, while German Lutherans or German Catholics could still claim a common belief in Jesus Christ, the Jews rejected Him as Messiah.

As Christians, we face challenges that unbelievers, whether Asian, European, African, or other, don’t. We know God’s absolute standards, against which we never bear comparison. The Devil targets us especially for temptation, since he already has the others. The rest of the world resents — even hates — that we are different and does what it can to drag us down to its level. Saint Paul wrote (1 Corinthians 10:13): “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man.” That means that no temptation has overtaken you that is not common to Asian, to girl, to student in rigorous high school, or to Christian. I imagine that you knew this in your head although your heart felt differently when you asked, “Why is it me that has to go through all these troubles?”

So let’s allow the Lord to apply what you know to how you feel. In our testings, God doesn’t always provide an easy way out. However, 1 Corinthians 10:13 goes on to say, “God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.” Evidently, the Father thinks more highly of your coping abilities than do you. Of course, that’s because He always remembers what we often forget: He is the one who truly bears the load for His children.

When you turn your problems over to Him in prayer, you probably hope that they’ll all disappear. Meanwhile, God hopes that you’ll learn to fully trust Him to lead you through your struggle, building strength of mind and spirit as you find yourself more “able to endure it.” Living in faith as you wrestle with life’s worries is part of taking up your cross daily and following Jesus (see Luke 9:23). But can’t carry the cross Christ gives you unless you, in turn, give Him what he seeks: In true humility, cast “all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. (1 Peter 5:6-7)”

Through James, the Holy Spirit tells us, “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. (1:2-3)” Likewise, He inspired Paul to write, “We rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. (Romans 5:3-5)”

You’re a young Christian lady whose parents and whose school hold her to high standards. Your reaction shows that you judge yourself in much the same fashion while also realizing that God’s standards are impossibly higher than those of school or home. Yet you need not worry that you’ll “flunk” life, because Jesus’ suffering and death already gives you an A+ in the final exam. By faith in Him, His perfect life becomes your perfect grade.

It may not seem so but an end to this particular testing is coming — just remember that it will come at a time of God’s choosing, not yours. For even though he was focusing on the persecution of believers for their faith, what Peter wrote applies also for life’s other troubles: After calling us to give the Lord our anxieties, he concluded, “The God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. (1 Peter 5:10)”

Scripture quoted from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version™, © 2001 by Crossway Bibles.

Send email to Ask the Pastor.

Walter Snyder is the pastor of Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Emma, Missouri and coauthor of the book What Do Lutherans Believe.

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Newspaper column #528


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