When I was in tenth grade, I failed math.
It blindsided me. I took advanced math classes; as recently as seventh grade I was taking eighth grade math. Then, suddenly, my math proficiency ended.
I stumbled through ninth grade Geometry, barely getting by in tests and homework. I couldn’t bring myself to ask the teacher for extra help even though I desperately needed it. The few questions I asked were met with answers that confused me. Relief came when my report card showed I had squeaked by with a C.
Then tenth grade came, and with it Algebra II. It was still an advanced class; most other students in my grade were taking either Algebra I or Geometry. From the first day I struggled. The class progressed too fast; I couldn’t keep up. I made excuses: my teacher hated me, I missed a test, I didn’t get the homework.
The truth was that I was out of my league.
Nights at home doing math homework ended with me crying at the kitchen table, my dad growing frustrated with my inability to understand. He went to college for engineering, not teaching mathematics to emotionally fragile teenage girls.
Despite my father’s help, I was failing. It became clear that amidst the As and Bs, I would also receive an F on my report card. It was mortifying.
F meant Failure.
My parents intervened. It was decided that I would no longer receive a grade in Algebra II. I would audit the class for the rest of tenth grade and take it again in eleventh grade, when most of my classmates were taking it. In the meantime, a math tutor was hired to catch me up on the fundamentals I missed.
During eleventh grade, I hit the ground running, and aced Algebra II all year.
I better have. I took it two years in a row. Go ahead. Ask me anything about Algebra II.
On second thought, don't.
A few years ago our church small group read Philippians 4:13, which says: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me." We talked about what this verse means to each of us. Some said that it means that Christ strengthens us to get through rough times. Others said that Christ is present in every second of our lives and that he gives us strength to do everything. One woman joked that she used to think it meant that she could keep adding tasks to her schedule and that Christ would give her superhuman strength to complete them successfully. We all laughed at that.
True to form, I didn’t say much. I didn’t really know what it meant.
Today, I know that it means that without Christ, I can’t do much of anything. He gives me the desire and the tools needed to do life. I might still fail, but he gives me the strength to carry on, to pick myself up and start again. A do-over, like I had in math class. It may require a lot of personal effort, but I can find the strength to work through it with Christ at my back, my front, and on my sides.
His strength never weakens; we may lose sight of it for a time, or we may think we don’t need it, and repeat the same mistakes over and over again. Eventually when we fall it might take us a while to find Christ’s hand in life again, but it never goes away. There is always a lesson to learn.
Christ gives me the strength I need to get through every day. I didn’t know it at the time, but he gave me the strength to get through my math class disaster, as he has every single day before and since then.
For me, this revised verse is true: I can do all things, over and over again if needed, through Christ who strengthens me. Don’t I know it.
I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. Philippians 4:13 (NKJV)