“Try Harder!”

It was 1937, on a fall day. I am sure that the leaves were a beautiful colors and the cool brisk wind wouldn’t have ruffled my spirits. But I did not notice. My mind was focused on the report card I held in my hand. It stated, “Emily would do better if she would TRY HARDER.”

The last two words became a neon flashing sign in my mind. As I trudged ever closer to home, I pondered those two words, dissecting them with my 8 year old mind….”Try?” I surely had tried to do my best. “Harder?” How hard is hard? I certainly wouldn’t want to overdo my ‘harder’. I scrunched up my eyes, gritted my teeth and flexed my muscles, was this ‘harder?” How do you know what harder is, and how hard it would be? Were there degrees of harder.

Finally my steps came to the end of my three block journey of contemplation, and I handed the report card to Mom. “She looked at it, and then turned it over. In a voice that held a question, she uttered those words, “Try Harder?” After a time she says, “We will show this to Dad.”

Both my parents were school teachers in a former life. So I knew I was in trouble. I lived in the age when a teacher’s word stood firm.

That wasn’t the only time that I felt the wrath of teachers. In the first grade, we were given a picture of an apple to color red. I smelled the paper, fresh from the mimeograph pan of hardened jelly and ink. I looked at my new box of crayons and chose one. The teacher walked my desk. “That is orange-red! You are to color the apple red.” I asked for another print of the apple, but was told I could only have one. I was crushed and felt the eyes of fellow first graders on me. I wanted to please my teacher. Years later I noted 4 different shades from green to red – apples.

Then in the second grade, I happily colored many pages of Dutch – centered pictures. A windmill, wooden shoes, a dike, tulips – it was great to color these for I knew that my heritage came from Holland. Then the ‘Brad Day’ came. We were told to hold up our hand and wait to be called on, to come to the teacher’s desk and receive the two-pronged brads to complete our notebook. At the end of the day, my arm was tired, and I propped it up with my other hand. Finally I decided to venture up to the desk, saying to my self….my teacher just forgot me, it is ok.

When I arrived at the desk, it seemed like a long journey, and asked for two brads, I was told to go back to my seat and hold up my hand again the next day. At the end of the second day, I knew that somehow I was not worthy of two brads, and I placed the pages in my satchel in the cloakroom, with a sigh.

What did I learn from those two incidents? (And there were more.) When I became a teacher, if children needed something they were welcomed at my desk. If we did an art project, I showed them an example, and encouraged their own thinking and creativity.

There are so many times….try harder….became a part of my thinking. And I remember. Imagine my surprise to find in “Crazy Love” by Francis Chan, the words – Try Harder! – with the admonition, Don’t Try So Hard! What? I read further….

Actions driven by fear and guilt…..are not an antidote to lukewarm, selfish, comfortable living. The answer is love.’

Francis Chan goes on to say, “Grandmother Clara said, ‘I love love.’ Don’t we all? Don’t we crave it? And isn’t it that what God wants of us – to crave this relationship with Him as we crave all genuine love relationships? Isn’t that what brings Him glory – when believers desire Him and not merely slaves who serve Him out of obligation?”

What does that have to do with ‘try harder’? Simply that when we try harder to measure up to a standard that is imposed upon us, we feel fear and guilt. Where as, if our life is built on the love of God who forgives, He takes away fear and guilt and the horrible feeling of never being all we can be because we do all in our own strength.

What happens if we love God so much that we are motivated and compelled to serve Him? Is this trying harder in our own strength? No, it is being nestled in His love so deeply that His strength carries us through our day, over obstacles and the hard times that are sure to come in this life. This relationship with God means freedom from earthly ‘try harder’ and simply learning and serving our Lord. That is called freedom. That is called unconditional love. And we never grow weary, for we are lifted up on eagle wings and the ‘best is yet to come.’

Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” Matthew 19:26

But he said to me, “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. For when I am weak, then I am strong. II Corinthians 12:9-11

I lift up my eyes to the mountains— where does my help come from? My help comes from the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth. He will not let your foot slip—he who watches over you will not slumber;indeed, he who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep. The LORD watches over you—the LORD is your shade at your right hand;the sun will not harm you by day, nor the moon by night. The LORD will keep you from all harm—he will watch over your life; the LORD will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore. Psalm 121

Comments? eacombs@eacombs@cox.net