Monday, March 18, 2013

On Cramming for the Finals

The phrase “If you don’t, you won’t” still haunts me… Teachers, parents and fellow students all had their own take on that phrase. I remember hearing my Dad use the little rhyme, “If you do it when you get to it, you may never get to it, to get at it again!” Wow… a breakthrough in mainline philosophy... yet is sticks in my craw along with many of the adages that haunt me from childhood and those formative years in school and later on in my 14 years of university study. Yes… I was a slow learner. It took me 32 years to decide that I actually was supposed to go to university after all; even though one of my mentors in high school told me it would be better for me to just go out and be a good mechanic. Of course Dad would hear none of that and he stuck to the “Pastor” dream even when I had no idea he thought that way until some 15 years later! I digress!… LOL! In high school the thought process was always, you need to study more and cram for finals. I guess I missed the handing out of that trait the day they were being distributed in class. My theory was always listen in class, do the homework while still in school, be ready to play any sport and well… can I admit this… strut your stuff for the girls. My thoughts were, sports and girls were most important in my educational preparation for life.

Well, that theory lasted about 10 minutes. I was good at sports and even won the coveted best all around athlete in high school one year. Then something happened… responsibility set in. Yup, it has a way of taking over where high ideals thought that they had the upper hand. So, I had work to do. Along with the challenges of small “p” political involvement in school, there was the work outside, in after school labour at the local grocery store. I spent about 9 years there through teenage and married life in various levels of the job. But, I couldn't seem to find the right fit. I entered the business world and then in the mid 80’s I finally felt called to what Dad identified as, my true life’s work. Ha! “Dad… couldn't you have said something sooner!”… “No…I knew you needed to prepare first!” It was like a call to cram for the finals all over again.

Did I say that I crammed for finals? Well, perhaps I had better set the record straight on that while I am at it. All that talk about doing so, was one day dashed to its final end, when a favorite teacher gave an insight that suited me to a tee! His take was this…"what you accomplish in cramming is very little… do the work through the year… understand what you read and are taught, as you go through life, and you will be able to write the finals without cramming. The night before the finals go out and take in a movie, go on a date, (like ya… that was gonna happen! LOL) but don’t cram… it just proves that you can memorize and not necessarily understand the work."

So off I went to university. Still holding to the theory of my favourite teacher, I held to the task of sitting in the front row, with open mind and listening ears. I did my work as much in advance as I could while trying to be there for my wife Karen, bringing up 3 children, starting immediate part-time pastoral work and doing part-time electrical work to help augment the cost of university. Oh, did I mention I took 7 courses that first year. So... they tell me that I made the dean’s list that year… who cared… the work was just beginning. The funny part was that I was at the same time, on academic probation because I had not done so well in high school…LOL! Ah yes, cramming for the finals never worked for me!

If we lived life the way we thought it always worked, what a stew we would be in. I have friends who I have been praying for down through the years. They are in the bracket of those who prefer to cram. You know the type. “I don’t have time now”, or “I am going to but need to find myself first”. I met a man one day who said, “ The things I have done in life (in times of war) God could never forgive me for” What he was saying was that he couldn’t forgive himself. That is sometimes the challenge. But the biggest stumbling block is the excuse … “not now Lord… I am too busy”, “I will later… I want to live my own way now… there will be lots of time later on in life”. Like those exams of old, life tends to bring what we least expect to the table. It seemed every year that those exams held topics and questions that we had never covered in class… which of course is the case. We are responsible to read the literature and understand the themes, concepts and meaning of what is being covered between the pages. That can be a whole life's work!

So life has its final exam too! Cramming is not good effort or practice. I am glad that with the finals always before us, we can have the option of spending our time in constant review, but also more importantly to take time to rejoice, worship, confess and fellowship with Him who marks the final when it is examined. Don’t lose track of where you are in the final semester by leaving it all to the night before… we don’t know when that will night come. Living on the edge takes constant preparation, but hey… it is all about enjoying the view from there!