“Mom, I just can’t think right. I’m just not good at this math.”
Self-defeating talk from my oldest.
I felt a familiar lump in my throat as I glanced over at him with his weary eyes and head on his homework paper.
It triggered so many memories from the same deprecating voice I heard growing up. My inner voice that was informed by outside and inside influences.
It wasn’t until I was an adult that I realized I actually had “a voice” repeating to me that I was “bad at math.”
It wasn’t until I was an adult that I realized I wasn’t *actually* bad at math.
No one had bothered to point out my strengths. I came with questions to parents and teachers. I was just always met with impatience, eye rolls, sighs and other verbal and non-verbal cues that adults were less than pleased with my math skills.
To give my parents a fair shake, it was usually late at night because I had worked so hard to try and figure it out on my own and raised the white flag when parents were at their wits’ end. I get that now. There is grace for tired parents.
Math meant trouble for me. It meant narrow answers I couldn’t opine my way out of. It meant I had to “show my work” which might be wrong even if I got the right answer. It felt like landmines.
It all changed for me when I took physics my senior year of high school. I had a great teacher who was funny and laid-back.
After the first couple of weeks and getting the hang of experiments and formulas that went with them, something thrilling happened in my soul. I *watched* math take place before my very eyes. It suddenly had a purpose. A physical manifestation. The equations *needed* to be solved in order to make a prediction.
I was a lifetime “B” student in math and that was the very best I could give.
I got an “A” in physics that first semester, much to my absolute surprise. It was fun. Math had actually become fun!
When I took music classes my freshman year of high school, I enrolled in “Harmony,” which is basically applied math in music. Having played piano my whole life, I saw it all laid out on the keyboard.
I practically slept through all my Harmony classes (sorry Dr. Flora) and still got easy “A’s.”
In retrospect, I needed a reason “to math.” Solving for the sake of solving clearly wasn’t my gig. I knew I wasn’t going to be an engineer. If someone had patiently observed and helped me hang on during the foundational stages, I may not have had such a poor outlook on my math journey through the years.
Weakness in one area does NOT mean total defeat and shame spiral. Also, taking an honest assessment of (and naming) weaknesses for what they are is also not defeating. In fact, it’s a point of building and moving forward.
I had an idea growing up that weakness was shameful and something to hide.
Weakness is the human condition. We have BOTH strengths and weaknesses and just as strengths cannot carry us through life, weaknesses don’t have to sink us, either.
Weaknesses point us to our need for Jesus.
“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness. Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties.” -2 Corinthians 12:9
Human weakness (as written by Paul quoting Jesus) is an opportunity to show the world that God fills in the cracks of our broken pottery with the strongest metals and most beautiful precious stones.
We are stronger when we let God fill our weakness.
I walked over to the “desk” (aka kitchen table) where Josh was doing his work. I lifted his chin up with my fingers and looked into his eyes.
“Do not let your inner voice tell you ‘I am bad at math.’ It’s lying to you right now.”
I explained that word problems are written to help your brain do gymnastics that will make it flexible for bigger things in the future. So we picked apart each one and I taught him the tricks… that each word meant something in the math world. We pulled out the stuff they gave us and drew a little trash can for the extra stuff we didn’t need. We wrote labels above everything.
My art-loving boy drew all over his paper and I could see his shoulders start to come down and the stress dissipate.
It might not be his easiest subject… and every day we may have to face the inner voice of fear, but facing it together with Jesus will take away the shame and darkness that comes from hiding.
The best kind of encouragement doesn’t come from just cheering on their strengths, it comes from helping them honestly face their weakness, accepting strength from a loving and non-judgmental Savior and moving through the weakness without shame.
An American humorist, writer and author. When boiling down the chicken soup of life, she finds those golden, fried nuggets of truth & writes them long after the kids go to bed.