I grew up in boarding school away from my parents. We lived in Africa and at the time my parents had no other options presented to them for educating their children other than boarding school since both of them were required (by the organization that sent them to Africa) to work full-time. (I can only imagine how my Mom and Dad felt sending their precious children to boarding school. It must have been incredibly difficult for them.)
Mail was extremely slow so “correspondance courses” (the equivalent of homeschool in those days… hmmm, am I dating myself?) weren’t preferred because there wasn’t any immediate (or even fairly quick) response in grading and feed back on work that had been completed and mailed in. That made school a long and drawn out process. Some of the people who worked there (like my parents) lived so far in the boonies that they had to take planes to get to their stations and land on dirt airstrips in some dangerous situations because there were no roads. So, mail came when the plane came… not every day, not even weekly. Others lived on main roads (which were most certainly NOT highways or smooth streets) and may get someone from the organization delivering mail a little more often, but still not daily or weekly.
Thankfully now, in this day and age of technology (satellite and instant connection), wonderful homeschooling programs, improved local schools, changed policies in many organizations that operate oversees in third-world countries, and other things, there are plenty of options for parents to choose from as they make decisions about educating their children.
I was the kind of child who could be put into any circumstances and find a way to adapt and get along, for the most part. There were other children who had a much harder time doing that. In the boarding school there were some wonderful staff and teachers, there were some who evidently (from our perspective as children, at least) would rather not have been assigned to working with us, and there were one or two who were abusers, unable to control their tempers, directing perfect control over the children through fear, and still able to present a perfect front to the other staff so that no one would know what went on privately.
I can’t tell anyone else’s story and don’t wish to bring up huge conversations about any particular school or accusations against any particular person or people (hence use of the generic “Africa” and “boarding school” as opposed to the specific country and school). My parents put their trust in these staff and, in my case, one of them in particular completely broke that trust. I was abused as a child. But, even though I won’t be telling her story, I will say that my sister was there with me and stepped in to stop anything that she saw or sensed. I remember as a little girl sneaking down to her dorm room and crawing into bed with her where I felt safe from time to time. My mom and dad weren’t there, but at least I had a place where my big sister could put her arms around me like a shield. And then came the day when she left boarding school and I was “alone” there. (I was the youngest of my siblings.)
Over time I’ll write about various things that I learned as a child in boarding school. But, today I want to talk about something in particular. One of the things that I learned was independence. I didn’t need anyone. I could do things on my own. I learned to avoid trouble with adults and yet to still stand between bullies (children) and a few being bullied (children). To be honest, the boarding school experience built in me a spirit of independence that is unusual in a child. (I believe that most, if not all of the kids I went to school with would agree that they also developed a similar spirit of independence.) So, how has this played out in my life?
Well, first of all, how would you feel if you were assigned to be a dorm parent to 26 little girls or boys? How would you handle that situaiton? I look back and am amazed because, as an adult looking back, I can see the effort they put into taking care of so many children from 1st graders on up. Yet, in reality it was really not possible to be able to give much individual attention to each of the children. The dorm parents had a daunting task in taking care of so many children coming from so many family backgrounds and parenting styles, so many personalities and temperaments, various ages and levels of maturity within the same ages, so many needs. On top of being dorm parents, these staff also had other responsibilities… nurse, principal, teachers, etc. In hind sight I’m astonished that anyone thought it was logical that they could effectively accomplish as much as they did. They must have been exhausted… and often. No one can keep giving and giving and giving of themselves without getting worn down after a while.
So, even though this is a part of my story of how people and circumstances affected my life (and not always in a good way), I have to stop for a moment and say THANK YOU to the staff at that school! Thank you for working so hard. Thank you for doing your best to teach us. Thank you for spending time with us even though you were stretched thin. For those who did extra things like having little girls over to your apartments to teach them something fun like how to bake cookies, thank you! For those who observed and noticed when a child really was sick and needed the nurse or the hospital, not just playing sick to get out of school, thank you! For each of you giving up your comfortable lives in your home country to go to Africa and teach children, be dorm parents and do many other things in a boarding school, thank you. For those of you who actually showed us God’s love through your very life choices, actions, words and deeds, thank you!
For my favorite teacher, thank you for your joy and obvious love of teaching and of children because you motivated us to want to learn. You have gone home to be with the Lord now, but you motivated a lot of students and left them with wonderful memories of you.
For my favorite piano teacher… the one who taught me my first two years… thank you! I loved music and you encouraged that. I wanted to do my best for you. I saw you as a sweet, kind, gentle, loving woman and wanted to be around you. Thank you for everything that you poured into each of us kids.
Now on to part of my story. Instead of relying on any adult in my life as I was growing up, I learned to resolve problems on my own and do things myself. Unfortunately over my lifetime that complete sense of independence has translated into not really needing anyone… including God.
Don’t get me wrong. I am a Christian and I love God with all my heart. But, one of my biggest struggles has been to learn to depend less on myself and depend fully on God, His plan and purpose for my life, and His guidance. There have been so many times over the years when I’ve been tempted to do things my way because that’s what I learned to do from the time I was a little child. There have been times when I knew that God was there, but He seemed far off and, at times, I seemed to be the only one with a vested interest in my life and choices.
But, that is all a lie… false thinking. First of all, God is fully vested in my life (and yours). He created each of us. Jesus Christ (fully God) allowed Himself to become a tiny baby (fully God and fully human), be temped just like we are, live the human experience with struggles and pain just like we do, and yet live a completely sinless life. He freely gave His life to pay the penalty of sin for me and for you. And, He rose up again three days later, victorious over sin and death. I would say that He is fully vested in each of our lives. It’s up to us to acknowledge that and come to Him.
But, more than that, I am not God. I am not the Creator. I do not see the big picture of what my life is going to be like. Someone in my past (I don’t remember who) once gave an example of needle work. We look at the work on our lives from the bottom and see only the cut threads, criss cross areas, and mess. But, God is making a picture out of our lives. He sees it from the top, the perfectly stitched needlework of our lives and what they are going to be like in the end.
So, independence from everyone, including God, is a foolish thing. Although I can plan for my version of the future, all I can see is here and now. Why would my independence and personal choices be wiser than God’s? He’s the One creating a beautiful picture out of my life. I only see the parts and pieces in the here and now. God IS the Creator. He does see the big picture.
He knows that experiencing only sunshine in our lives will bring nothing, but more independence and lack of growth. He knows that if I go through struggles I will learn and grow just like a garden needs rain to grow and produce. He knows that if He rescues me from the consequences of all of my poor choices I’ll never learn and will just keep making the same poor choices. We all have to pay the consequences of our poor choices. Unfortunately, because of sin, there are plenty of consequences out there that are not of our own making, as well. He knows that if I go through struggles not of my own making and learn to turn to Him, beauty will come out of ashes… the oil of joy for mourning (Isaiah 61:3). I can learn to lean on Him, learn from Him and allow Him to change me into a person who is beautiful on the inside, understanding and caring of others because of those experiences.
Another important thing to keep in mind is that God created us to be social creatures. In His Word, He tells us that we need to worship Him together, encourage each other, love one another, lift each other up, pray for each other, serve one another, listen to each other, care for each other and so much more. The theme is “community”, not independence. There is no such thing as complete independence from each other in the Christian life. We need each other. God also knows that we (with our various personalities, perspectives, styles, etc.) will rub each other wrong from time to time. So, learning to serve those who rub us the wrong way… learning to pray for them, love them, listen to them, work with them, care for them… that helps sharpen us and develop growth in us. (“As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpeneth another.” Proverbs 27:17)
So, independence from others and especially from God is neither wise nor good. God is not a far away God. He says to us, “I will never learn you nor forsake you.” (Hebrews 13:5) “I am with you always, even to the end of the earth.” (Matthew 28:20) He created us. He has a plan for us. He is fully vested in our lives. He will never leave us.
So, the next time you think that you must be independent of everyone including God, think about the following verses. (Look up www.blueletterbible.org, type in the reference, and read the verses for yourself. Blue Letter Bible is a website that has the Bible in various versions printed on the web. You can actually go on there and read from chapter to chapter if you don’t have your own Bible.)
Matthew 6:8 – God knows your needs before you even ask Him.
I Timothy 6:17 – Don’t trust in uncertain riches, but trust in the Lord.
Ephesians 6:10 – Trust in God and in the power of His might.
I Timothy 5:11 – Encourage one another and build each other up.
Ephesians 4:7-12 – God gave each of us special gifts and capabilities for the purpose of “edifying” each other.
These are only five of many, many verses that tell us that we need each other and God, something that we know deep down (whether we want to admit it or not). I hope that my life lesson will be an encouragement for you. If you don’t know God, start reading the Bible and seeing what God has to say about you, about Himself, and about life. Ask Him to really reveal Himself to you. If you know God, I pray that this will be an encouragement for you to trust/rest in God in all circumstances and live in community with your brothers and sisters in Christ so that you can encourage them and they can lift you up and encourage you.