This is part 5 of our summer blog series called "Encountering God in Crisis," where we explore stories from our past that teach us how to find hope in our present, no matter our circumstances. Luke Hays shares how God shifted his paradigm from one of disappointment to seeing where God is at work, even in the midst of the global pandemic.
Cancelled Due to the Coronavirus
“I think I’m going to just write back to the church and say that there is no story to share. There is so much still unknown, so much up in the air, that I don’t see resolution. There is no point in writing the story when there is no conclusion to it.”
These were my words to my wife as we sat on the couch talking one evening. I had been asked to share about God’s work through Bent Tree’s Faith@Work Educator Network, and frankly, I couldn’t see much. I thought this blog would be one more thing added to the list of “cancelled due to the coronavirus.” But God had other plans.
A Lesson From the Lawn
This past school year has been quite a journey for me as an educator. It’s been an adventure of God birthing new initiatives, of gathering his people in various settings, of having a dream of how things would go and then finding myself disappointed to a degree each time, and of being graciously corrected by Jesus. I realized the work God was doing in my life as I was doing yard work recently, tilling the hardened soil, mixing in peat moss, digging holes, and planting plugs of fresh St. Augustine grass. The goal? To bring new life to many brown patches where grubs and fungus had done much damage last fall. Jesus knew I needed to be alone with him, working on my hands and knees, talking with him and listening to him as I worked the soil with my hands.
As I planted plug after plug, I realized a few things. Grass can’t grow without roots. Plants must first send their roots down into the earth, grasping for nutrients and water before they can sprout upward toward the sun. The downward growth is unseen and ever so gradual. But life is there in the soil; it is just unseen to the human eye. My impatient heart wants my yard to be lush now, to immediately be emerald green from edge to edge, but I’m going to have to wait a while for that to happen, if it ever will.
Just as God is growing my lawn roots first, he is also forming the foundation for programs at Creekview High School that are providing growth opportunities for educators and students. But I had to get past just looking at the numbers of participants to realize that God is not about the numbers as much as he is about the heart changes taking place in people.
"I had to get past just looking at the numbers of participants to realize that God is not about the numbers as much as he is about the heart changes taking place in people."
Growing Roots at Creekview High School
The past eight years teaching at Creekview High School in Carrollton have given me a deep love for my students and a longing to share with them the hope of Christ.
This longing led to the Seven@Schools program that we implemented in the fall of 2019. The Seven Project, as we called it, uses presentations for students during the school day, and then students host an evening program at night that is open to the community and includes games, contests, giveaways, and a gospel presentation.
After more than a year of planning with students through multiple Christian organizations, the evening event was a success! However, seeds of disappointment were sown in my heart. Perhaps a downside of being a math teacher who is fascinated with numbers is that I focus too much on numbers. I had been dreaming of a packed auditorium with 800+ students in attendance and more than 100 students giving their lives to Jesus. I had dreamed of at least 10 teacher-hosted, after-school discipleship groups forming after the event. That is not what happened.
However, in the months that followed, several student discipleship groups did slowly start forming. There was also a solidarity among the teachers who had helped make the event happen, so we started meeting together monthly to pray. I remember being struck by the depth and vulnerability being shared. We were beginning to see each other more as the brothers and sisters in Christ that we truly are, rather than as the colleagues with whom we simply work Monday through Friday. I was also approached by the leaders of Bent Tree's Faith@Work movement to start an Educator Network that would unite, encourage, and equip Christian educators across the DFW area.
A Paradigm That Wasn't Working
Then the pandemic unexpectedly struck and forced learning to go online. I faced increasing disappointment as attendance slowly declined at our quarterly meetings. The familiar doubt began to creep in as I focused on numbers of participants as indicators of success.
I started to entertain lies in my mind.
- Perhaps I’m the wrong person to be leading this.
- Is this movement really sustainable, especially during this pandemic?
- What if this decline in interest is because I’ve made this all about me?
- Maybe I screwed up God’s plan for this because I was doing too much of the work in my flesh.
Thankfully, God used my wife, a close friend, and my Educator Network planning team to see the truth. He encouraged me to remain faithful as a servant and leader in this ministry. He made it clear that this network of Christian educators should continue. It is especially critical to use connectedness to counteract the pandemic and its tendency to insidiously isolate people. He confronted my pride and revealed how my performance flesh manifested itself as I carried too much of the team’s load. Now our Educator Network team is in the process of creating sub-teams in which each person can operate out of the giftings and passions God has given them. God corrected my false thinking that my missteps could somehow thwart his plan for growth or that I could be singularly responsible for the decline in engagement.
How prideful my thinking was! He changed my paradigm from measuring success by numbers to measuring success by grateful trust in action. Instead of lamenting small amounts, slow processes, and declining numbers, I now thank God for establishing each of the movements of growth this year: Creekview students, Creekview teachers, and educators throughout the community. And to think that he would graciously choose to use me, a broken vessel who is working through many insecurities, to help accomplish his purposes simply astounds me. It’s grace, isn’t it? I thank God that he is using my many disappointments, frustrations, and unexpected direction changes this year to drive me to depending more deeply on Christ, to finding my satisfaction in his sufficiency rather than in my striving, successes, or struggles.
"God corrected my false thinking that my missteps could somehow thwart his plan for growth or that I could be singularly responsible for the decline in engagement."
A New Perspective
I finished the grass project in my yard in God's perfect timing. He saw fit to generously provide thunderstorms the next four days, giving plenty of nourishment to not just my lawn, but to Texans’ lawns all throughout the state. I recalled 1 Corinthians 3:6, where Paul said how he planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow. In this case, however, it was as if God were saying, “You planted the grass, I watered it abundantly, and I am making it grow. I’ve got this.”
I marveled at God’s timing and gracious provision. He prompted me to plant the grass when I did, not knowing that the rain would come. He knew that I would finish the project and have the plugs in place just before four consecutive days of thunderstorms. He knew that storms are precisely what plant life needs for growth. He knows exactly how my yard will turn out, and he will nurture that growth moment by moment.
Likewise, I marvel at God’s timing and gracious provision at Creekview and in the Educator Network. Like the roots of my newly planted grass, he established the community and structure needed for connection before the storm of the coronavirus pandemic and all of its subsequent confusion, frustration, and disappointment. Through the storm, those roots are only growing deeper. But these gradual, mostly invisible processes will take time, and I am learning to wait on him in grateful trust. He knows exactly what his plans are for the Educator Network and the movements at Creekview for the coming year, and he will nurture that growth moment by moment.