Be of Good Cheer


By Michael J. McKenna

In the opening of his 1941 essay, Invitation to the Pain of Learning, Mortimer J. Adler writes, 

One of the reasons why the education given by our schools is so frothy and vapid is that the American people generally―the parent even more than the teacher―wish childhood to be unspoiled by pain. Childhood must be a period of delight, of gay indulgence in impulses. It must be given every avenue for unimpeded expression, which of course is pleasant; and it must not be made to suffer the impositions of discipline or the exactions of duty, which of course are painful. Childhood must be filled with as much play and as little work as possible. What cannot be accomplished educationally through elaborate schemes devised to make learning an exciting game must, of necessity, be forgone. Heaven forbid that learning should ever take on the character of a serious occupation―just as serious as earning money, and perhaps, much more laborious and painful.

And he wrote that in 1941! I wonder what he’d think of the state of education today.

To be honest. I understand the parents’ position. What parents—60 years ago or today—want their children to experience pain, particularly at school where they spend so much of their formative years? I have five children, and it still grieves this father’s heart when any one of them hurt. I want to do all I can to relieve my children of their pain and discomfort.

However, Jesus had a few thoughts on the subject of suffering and pain. In the Gospel of John, He told His disciples, “In the world, you will have tribulation.” Notice He did not say we might, or if we lead good lives we will avoid troubles of various kinds. He said we “will have tribulation.” Jesus did not come to remove trouble from our lives, and the same can be true of our children. However, He also did not leave us there to despair. He continued:

“But be of good cheer, I have overcome the world” (Jn. 16:33). Jesus’ point is clear: You will have trouble in your lives. But trust that I have already overcome not only the specific troubles. I have also overcome the world from which those troubles come. 

In short, Jesus is asking us to trust him that even the difficulties we may experience in this life are able to be used by God for our good and for His glory. Jesus is pushing us toward trust in the midst of our pain and trouble.

And let’s face it. It’s easy to say we trust God when everything in our lives is “the bee’s knees.” Our trust and faith in God is only put to the test during times of challenge, pain, and struggle. 

And that’s just as true for our children as it is for us.

As I wrote in a previous article, “If we seek to eliminate struggle and failure in our children’s lives, chances are they will not arrive at adulthood equipped to deal with the inevitability of failure. (See Rom. 5:3-5 and Pr. 24:10ff.)”

Now, why am I going on about this? Because, it is a truism in the world of University Model Education that the first four-to-six weeks of school is difficult, particularly if you are new to the model. In fact, I could have paraphrased Jesus back in August and told you: “In the first four-to-six weeks of school you will have tribulation.” (Truth be told, I’m pretty sure we did tell you that that would be the case.)

However, just as Jesus did not leave us dangling with the bad news hanging over our heads, neither did we. “But be of good cheer! Parents and students persevere through the first few weeks of school every year!”

It does not surprise me when parents tell me of their children’s struggles early on in the school year. In fact, we expect it. However, there are some things we can do to alleviate the trials we face in adjusting to a new way of “doing school.”

Don’t Go It Alone

You find yourself in the midst of a community of people who have gone through this before, and who are going through it with you even now. Talk to your child’s teacher, a school administrator, another parent who’s been here a while, and let them know of your challenges. Chances are we’ve been there and done that, and we can provide you with ways to help.

See Trials as Ultimately Beneficial

We need to change the way we look at the hard things our children are asked to do, particularly at school when it’s teachers who love them and have their best interest at heart who are asking them to do these hard things. It’s only through conquering the challenges sent our way that we grow, improve, and learn to cope as responsible adults.

Speak Up

Many parents make the mistake of suffering in silence when their children undergo challenges at school. Now I would never advocate that you spread your child’s challenges over social media. But I would not advocate total silence either. Speak with someone who can help. Usually, that’s your child’s teacher. How often have I discovered parents who are exasperated at one thing or another going on at school, and when they finally talk to someone (usually at the point of having a nervous breakdown), we find that the solution was fairly easy to find. It usually involved some missing piece of information or a failure to properly communicate in the first place. So, before things reach a fever pitch in your home, speak up!

Be of Good Cheer

In Ecclesiastes 3, we read, “I know that nothing is better for them than to rejoice, and to do good in their lives, and also that every man should eat and drink and enjoy the good of all his labor—it is the gift of God.” Did you notice that? Our labor—as fraught with difficulty as it is due to the fall—is God’s gift to us. And because God has given us good work to do as His gift to us, we are to “enjoy all of [our] labor.” The challenge before us is helping our children to see their schoolwork—even with all of its challenges—as God’s gracious gift to them. And when they do, to be of good cheer!