Protecting Others From Discomfort – Is it Wise?

This is an idea that has danced around in my mind (and heart) for about 3 months now. It seems that everywhere I turn something causes me to contemplate the question “Is it wise to protect others from discomfort?” One thing I have determined is that this question can apply to so many areas of life – a parent protecting a child, a teacher protecting a student, God protecting his children, friend protecting a friend, benefactor protecting the recipient, etc… My blog began as a result of this question burning in my mind; yet, I couldn’t put anything in writing. It wasn’t until I typed the list of situations to which this question can apply that I realized why the words were just out of reach. I couldn’t separate my thoughts; the list above just separated them for me. (Hang with me; if you don’t already see how this idea applies to teaching mathematics to everyone, you will.)

Protecting others is a natural instinct for me. I never thought much about it, but in retrospect I think I thought it un-Christian NOT to help when I saw a need. I guess it was this summer as a participant in a mission trip that I began to question this ‘help without thinking’ reaction to every need I saw. I was required to read a book “When Helping Hurts”. I won’t go into the details but I now admit that in many instances when I thought I was ‘helping’ someone, I was actually ‘protecting’ someone from discomfort. How is someone going to learn to make the necessary adjustments in their budget if regular living expenses are being paid by other(s)? How is an alcoholic ever going to realize he/she needs help if others keep making excuses for the addiction? How is a college student to make wise choices living out on their own if they were never allowed to make their own choices while living at home? How is a student going to feel like he/she can succeed if always protected from failure? How can a person realize their need for a Savior in Christ, if we unknowingly become their savior and protect them from consequences and discomfort?

Yesterday in church the pastor continued his series in Exodus. I’ve heard this story numerous times. The children of Israel had just crossed the Red Sea on dry land and watched the Egyptians drown. They stopped on the other side of the river and sang a song of praise to God. Yet, in the very same chapter (Exodus 15), they began to complain – about bitter water, about being hungry, about having no water. And each time after their complaint God lovingly and miraculously provided for their needs (Exodus 15:22-17:7). Every time I have read/heard this story my thought was why were they so stupid? And why did God give them what they wanted each time?

Yesterday I found the answers. The Israelites were so stupid simply because they were human, just like we are. The other thing I learned was profound. My pastor said that God could have provided sweet water, abundant food, and abundant water for the Israelites and ‘protected’ them from the discomfort of drinking bitter water, being hungry, and being thirsty. Instead he allowed those discomforts to exist in order for his children to learn. They needed to learn that there is something more important than food and water and it could only come from God. He was teaching them to Hear, Trust, and Obey (Deuteronomy 8:2-3).

Think about what you have read so far and see how you can apply it – to your life, especially to teaching, and particularly to teaching mathematics. I’ll be back tomorrow. (The strategy series will continue later.)