Mark 4:2 (ICB): Jesus used many stories to teach them.
Earlier today, I wrote a letter to my major professor from my Ph.D. program thanking him for all the time and work he put into training me. I told him that any accomplishment that I or my students might achieve could be accredited to him because of his dedication to excellence. Knowing him, this statement might mean as much to him as his winning of the Nobel Peace prize in 2007.
Even nearly 20 years later, I still tell stories about my major professor along with telling stories he told me about his Ph.D. major professor as examples of the value of steady discipline and hard work. Stories such as these helped teach me to think closer, deeper, and longer. And these stories do the same for my students, the 2nd and 3rd generation recipients of these stories.
Stories are the oldest form of teaching and the simplest form of connection—“the shortest distance between two people is a story” (P. Digh). Connection is vital to effective teaching, both in and out of the classroom. Stories can help us teach (and learn) everything from morals to mathematics and critical thinking to cooking.
Each of us has a story from which someone needs to learn. And each of us benefits from hearing others’ stories and learning from them. Thus each of us has a story to tell . . . our most important stories can be the triumphs, the failures, or the everyday dependence on God which best teaches the lessons of love, grace, trust, and joy.
- Love—Stories from my childhood of learning science alongside faith from my father on our farm are especially helpful when teaching science to students scared half to death of their required science courses for graduation. These stories provide something concrete and relatable for the students to grab onto during forays into knotty and/or abstract concepts.
- Grace—Stories from my undergraduate years of making bad choices from staying in an abusive dating relationship testify to God’s faithfulness and forgiveness to my students who could be in similar situations. Stories such as these show hard data evidence of God’s grace in how He rescued me from my abuser, healed the hidden wounds, and allowed me to marry an incredibly kind and godly man 25 years ago.
- Trust—Stories of my high-risk pregnancies and sons’ premature births requiring months of bedrest and hospital stays display the importance of trusting God to provide for all needs, be it physical, financial, emotional, mental, or spiritual. These stories help reinforce to my students that God cares deeply for each and every aspect of their lives.
- Joy—Stories of my current life challenges with rheumatoid arthritis show the strength of choosing joy by delighting in the plan God has for each person with the ultimate goals of God’s glory and kingdom growth. Students need to hear and see that God is good, God is true, and God is with them when circumstances seem to say otherwise.
I admit it’s not easy to tell my stories sometimes but they are often powerful and far-reaching lifelines to students mired in sin and doubt and/or guilt and regret. They are evidence of what God can and will do in mercy and grace for those willing to return to Him. And former students often refer to the stories even years later as being influential in their choices for what is good and right.
In turn, taking the time to listen to my students’ stories encourages them and helps them realize their value as being created by God and for God. Their stories not only teach me more about God but help me know what I need to emphasize in teaching them so they can become more like Jesus, the Master Teacher. I struggle with thinking that I don’t have the time to listen to their stories but in reality, this is time well spent for my students’ education in life.
Our stories are evidence of God’s working in and through our lives for the display of His glory for the good of His people. Our stories are His story of hope written down for generations to come.
Joel 1:3 (NLT): Tell your children about it in the years to come, and let your children tell their children. Pass the story down from generation to generation.
What stories could encourage my students today? What stories from my own experience or mentors are most precious to me, and why?
Dear Father God,
Thank You that You are a God Who forgives and restores. Thank You that You rewrite my story of sin into a story of grace and hope when I trust You. Thank You for opportunities to tell how You give hope in hard circumstances.
Please forgive me for missed opportunities to tell of Your love, mercy, and grace. And please give me the strength to be humble enough and bold enough to tell my students, colleagues, family, and friends that You alone are enough and that You alone are trustworthy.
Thank You God for loving me enough to give Jesus for me.
In Jesus’ Name,
Beth Madison holds a PhD in soil microbiology from Kansas State University, and an MS in agronomy from the University of Kentucky. She completed her undergraduate work in plant and soil science at the University of Tennessee. Beth has been teaching at the university level for nearly 22 years. She served as assistant professor at Western Kentucky University before “retiring” to be a stay-at-home mom for nearly 10 years while adjunct teaching at Waycross College (University of Georgia system) and then at Union University. When her youngest son began school, she returned to full-time teaching as an assistant professor at Union University. Beth has been married for 25 years to an awesome and selflessly giving man who loves God and His creation deeply as a professor of biology, also at Union University. Their favorite activities include being outside in the woods or on the water almost any time of the year, and visiting with friends while eating good food.