I would hope that any of my former students could, if nothing else, remember one thing about writing: make a claim and support it. For years, I taught what’s called the five paragraph essay. It begins with an introductory paragraph including the thesis or overall main idea for the paper; then three body paragraphs – each making a claim or statement followed by support and reasons; it ends with the conclusion, summarizing for the reader what he/she should take away from the essay. Introduction (1) + Body Paragraphs (3) + Conclusion (1) = 5 Paragraph Essay. (Who says we English teachers can’t do math!) I liked teaching this method because it was clear, concise, and formulaic. Then, I attended a writing workshop where the speaker argued that real-life writing doesn’t happen in five paragraph essays. Blog posts, online articles, newspaper columns, magazine articles, novels, stories, etc. – none of these follow the five paragraph format. The only time you really encounter such a format is if you’re a writing teacher who reads 25-100 of them all in succession. Fun times…
It was hard for me to give up that clear, concise, formulaic method, though. You see, I like clarity; I like to be able to outline reasons; I like that it gives struggling students an almost fill-in-the-blank approach. I like my life to work like that, too. When things happen, I want to be able to outline the reasons. Even if the event itself doesn’t seem rational, if I can find reasons to support it, it puts me in my happy place. Let me give you an example of an outline for what I would consider to be a body paragraph in my five paragraph essay life.
Claim/Event: I went to Doane College, a private school, where I racked up thousands of dollars in debt to become a teacher, which isn’t exactly at the top of the salary food chain. (Looking back, that decision doesn’t seem very reasonable, but watch how I can rationalize and provide support for it.)
1. At Doane, I discovered who I really was. I knew one person on the entire campus (granted it is a relatively small school) opposed to choosing a more “common” college where I likely would have been surrounded by former classmates. I was free to develop my personality, beliefs, and experiences based on who I was becoming instead of who I had been.
2. At Doane, I discovered my love and passion for teaching. Though I entered as a communications major, I left with an excellent education in education and was well-prepared to enter my first year of teaching.
3. At Doane, I met and married my husband. It’s only fitting that, together, we sacrificed and worked relentlessly to pay off every last penny of that student debt.
Isn’t that awesome!?!?!? It’s so neat, and orderly, and rational, and outlined. I love when my life events fit into that perfect little formula. However, recently, I’ve been experiencing the not-so-five-paragraph-essay kind of life. I’ve been trying desperately to outline some things, and it’s just not working out.
Claim/Event: My sister died in a car accident when she was in eighth grade.
Claim/Event: I have a passion for teaching and a degree that grants me permission, yet I feel God calling me elsewhere.
Claim/Event: I have four amazing children who I love more than I can express, yet I hurt because of another pregnancy that ended in miscarriage.
I’m not sharing these paragraphs in the essay of my life to get sympathy. Please don’t pity me, I don’t want it. I’m sharing them because I struggle with them, and I know there has to be other women out there who struggle, too. Maybe not the same events, but we share the struggle to understand why. I want to fill in those three reasons to support my claim. I want clear, concise, and rational answers. I want them so, so badly. And that’s where I’m stuck. When I look at that outline, I feel frustrated because I can’t fill in the blanks. I like to be in control and know all the answers, instead I’m helpless and confused. I look at that outline and feel angry because a God I try so hard to serve isn’t giving me answers my human brain can deal with. Those question marks leave me feeling confused. I have been trying to come up with at least one reason for another lost pregnancy: I should be satisfied with my four healthy children; maybe, I’m not that great at this mom thing; if it was my daily cup of coffee, it wasn’t worth it. None of it makes sense. I know those aren’t the real reasons, but my five paragraph essay self, keeps brainstorming, trying to find support, trying to find reasons. And God keeps telling me that life ain’t no five paragraph essay. He’s reminding me that I can’t see the big picture but he can. God wants me to know that it’s okay to be angry, frustrated, and confused. He’s teaching me what faith really means. Faith is defined as believing in what you cannot see. I cannot see the reasons, but I believe that the God who created me has them. So, for now, I think I’ll fill in my outline like this:
Claim/Event: The stuff I can’t explain
1. “We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation. And this hope will not lead to disappointment. For we know how dearly God loves us, because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love.” Romans 5:3-5
2. “And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 8:38-39
3. “See how very much our Father loves us, for he calls us his children, and that is what we are! But the people who belong to this world don’t recognize that we are God’s children because they don’t know him.” 1 John 3:1
4. “Give thanks to the God of heaven. His faithful love endures forever.” Psalm 136:26
5. And the reasons just keep coming. All through the Bible, God reminds us how much he loves us, encourages us, and guides us through even the most confusing times.
Lord, I want so badly to understand why, to see the reasons outlined. Help me, Father, to let go of the search for rational and instead cling to faith. Help me be content knowing that you love me more than I can understand and that any pain I feel now will no longer exist in the glory of eternal life with you. Thank you for sending your son Jesus to suffer and die for my sins, so that through my personal faith in him, I have hope and love to get me through the stuff I don’t understand. Thank you for your endless love even when I doubt and though I don’t deserve it. Thank you for the unknowns in my life that draw me closer to you.