Friday, January 8, 2016

When something feels hard

Photo credit: freedesignfile

My oldest is currently going through 4th grade math and entering the world of long division and multiplying multi-digit numbers. I was a mathy kid myself and was excited when I saw what was in store for him, but the reality is that these multi-step processes are not always easy at the beginning. My son has generally flown through math concepts in the lower grades and for the first time tasted the experience of what it was like to struggle with understanding how something worked. Sometimes there was frustration, sometimes there were tears, and other times, he wanted to give up or just skip the hard problems.

But slowly, very slowly, he started getting those hard problems right after careful thought and attention. We both shared the joy of his success when I would read the answer out and he'd show me that he got the same exact answer. His favorite phrase as of late is to shout, "I nailed it!" when he gets a more complicated problem right.

Then one day, I was working on a recipe or something else in the kitchen and saying to my son that it was just hard to get it all done at the same time, and he replied, "Don't worry, Mom, you'll get it eventually if you keep working at it!" My initial thought was, "Well, that's math, that's something you need to learn . . . "

Gulp. Yes, here I was, avoiding the hard steps, complaining about what I needed to do and justifying an easier way out. How easy it is to ask our children to do things we are not willing to do ourselves!

What are the hard problems in your life that you wish you could just skip? I know that for me, I wish I could skip over stretching a tight budget, or learning how to better manage four small children at home while I'm homeschooling. I don't like feeling like something is hard, and it's hard to push myself to work at something when what I really want to do is settle down and watch Late Night with Jimmy Fallon. And sometimes, that is what I do. But I'd like to think that I could get better at being in the middle of those hard times and choosing to do the hard thing, to working the problems until I get them right.

I do believe there are times where we should give ourself grace, of course, but I am also slowly realizing that sometimes the best thing you can do for yourself is to not let yourself off the hook. Progress doesn't always feel easy or comfortable. It is often very painful, confusing, frustrating, and even discouraging. When you set out to do something challenging, you can expect to fail a lot at the beginning, to feel like you're moving backwards instead of forwards, and to feel impatient when you feel like all you are doing is spending time on things that you are not good at, at least not right now.

Last weekend, my son sat at the kitchen table with a sheet of paper he was busily filling with numbers. When I asked what he was doing, he said he was making up long division problems to do on his own. He loved working the numbers and getting the right answers. What used to be a burden and struggle to him had now become a joy. Is it possible that the hard things you and I face, if practiced consistently, could become a joy too?

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