Strength does not come from winning. Your struggles develop your strengths. When you go through hardships and decide not to surrender, that is strength.
– Arnold Schwarzenegger
3.72 miles + 4.25 miles+ 3.08 miles
The bell rang and I still had blanks on my test paper. I had spent the last 50 minutes not knowing how to do the problem so there was no reason why in these last few post-bell-ringing minutes I would figure it out. I gave up. Time was up anyway. I turned in the exam, grabbed my phone and walked straight out of the building for some fresh air. My next class was going to start in the same classroom in about 8 minutes, but I needed to Escape. I just stood outside the building, refusing to cry over “just a test.” Never let them see you cry. If there is one thing I learned in the military, it’s never let them see you cry. Then they know they got to you. Is it still like that here? No. These kids bustling to class aren’t holding anything over my head. But I won’t cry.
I stood out there until my phone said it was 10:29. One minute until the next class. I didn’t want to walk back in until I knew my face wouldn’t betray me. It was just a test. I didn’t want everyone to know how badly I had done. In the moments before the exam I had explained a theorem to the girl on my right and a proof to the guy on my left. I was ready. I knew what I knew and I knew there were things I didn’t know, but I thought I would be ok. I was calm. But an hour later I felt shattered.
Sometimes running is the only thing that makes sense. Struggling, sweating, hurting through a run is the parallel story. You can be angry, ashamed, embarrassed, afraid, hurt, broken on the trail, but you keep running. In the emotional state, it’s just muscle memory. You don’t have to think. You just run.
I spent my lunch hour in quiet reflection. Earlier this semester, I had struggled with motivation. I don’t know how I’m going to use this degree, my house was falling apart, and I could very easily slip back into stay-at-home mom mode. Giving up would be so easy. I wouldn’t have to struggle through this material. I wouldn’t be crying over missed homework. I could just do the things around the house. But is that what I really wanted? Is that where God wanted me? I felt like he wanted me in school and he had blessed my efforts in the program. I needed to be in school. So in an attempt to sort out those thoughts, I wrote this short paragraph back in September:
Math is everywhere in creation. There is order and logic in plants, animals, and people, as well as the forces which govern our planet and universe. In studying higher math, we learn more about the Creator by understanding his intelligent design. For we know that all things are made through him, by him, and for him who has redeemed us from our sins.May my study of math be for His glory. Amen.
Re-reading those words, I dismally felt like my failed exam was not for his glory. I just wanted to quit. It was too hard and I wasn’t smart enough. I was in a miserable state.
But I remembered the words I had told myself that very morning, whether I aced the test or not Jesus is still on the throne and my hope is in him. A failed math test does not change that in the least. A failed test is not a failed life. It’s a set back.
Still feeling glum, but starting to crawl out of my hole, I decided to put on a brave face. I wanted to skip my last class so badly, but of course I went and I was glad I did. My teacher went over something that was extremely helpful for my final project in that class so I was feeling encouraged. Maybe things weren’t all bad.
By the time I made it to the end of the day, my brain was mush. I needed to go run. At least I could still do that.
I want to quit.
You can’t quit.
But I want to.
But you aren’t a quitter.
Ugh, I know. I wish I was though.
Soooo, what do you when you want to quit but you aren’t a quitter? I don’t know. Go for a run. What else can you do?
I changed into my workout clothes. I was supposed to go to the gym, but that was so not happening. Lifting weights doesn’t hold a candle to running when it comes to stress relief. I knew where I would go. I wouldn’t run through town where I’d have to pay attention to cars or stoplights. I would run the trail near my daughter’s school. I hadn’t been over there since the beginning of the semester.
I talked to myself trying to sort out the mess in my head. Nothing like an exam to make you feel like you were measured, tried, and found wanting. Even the pounding of my steps seemed to chant *quit* *quit* *quit*. But that little voice in my head that is so annoyingly optimistic (and sort of sounds like my mom) said, Oh, don’t give up. You can do it. If you gave up every time things got hard, where would you be? The words from my first post came rushing back to me. Can you fall? I said I could with running. But what about school?
You can do it.
But it’s so hard!!
It is hard. But it’s not impossible.
Before I left to run I had emailed my professor,
I did terrible on the exam this morning. Can I come talk to you about it on Thursday?
Half way through my run, I got a reply from my professor. He said,
One thing I always do with my tests (but don’t tell students in advance) is give the same test twice –Once under time pressure, the second time with no time pressure. Thus I will return the tests to everyone on Friday, and ask everyone to re-work the problems (by themselves, but using any notes and or their book).
Whew! It wasn’t as bad as I thought. I did terrible, but there would be an opportunity to fix it. Praise the Lord! See….not impossible. The You-can-do-it voice started to get a little stronger and I had a great run. It was exactly what I needed.
Not every race is a victory. Not every test is an A. Easier said than accepted. But somehow, the struggle on the trail helps unravel the tangled knot of stress. In math, if you don’t know how to solve a hard problem, first try a simpler one. Running is the simpler problem. It’s the parallel problem that has its own challenges, but it helps solve the harder problems in life. It’s why I run.
The semester isn’t over. I’m not a mathematician yet, but I’m still an aspiring one. Will I make it? I don’t know. But I will keep trying. And no matter how far I go in mathematics, I pray that my work will be for His glory.
For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.