On Doing Hard Things

And I’m convinced that if the Christian church loses this generation, it will be not because we didn’t entertain them, but because we didn’t dare them… with the truth of the world. And it won’t be because we’d made the Gospel too hard, but because we made it too easy, and we just played games with kids and didn’t actually challenge them to think about how they live.

Shane Claiborne

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Above: English 11 meets a new challenge, Literary Debate, with courage, formal wear and a flair for the dramatic!

“This is so hard!”

My student is scrolling through an article on Ernest Hemingway, trying to absorb without reading too much of it, as our class works on the second day of a research project.  I glance at the article, scholarly and reliable but laid out poorly in its no-frills, EBSCO way, and nod.  It’s seventh period on a sunny day, and I’m in no mood for pedagogical deception.

“You’re right.  It’s hard.  Hard, but not impossible.  And not in any way harmful, right?  Can you read it with a goal in mind?  Like, find three major life events that influenced Hemingway’s writing?  That might help.”

He nod and returns to his article with a sigh, and I continue pacing the library, full of hardworking researchers.  They’re doing a good job, really, and I’m proud of their efforts.  Something about the exchange sticks with me, though.  I’ve had so many conversations like this in the last five years, conversations that ended with me confirming that what I’ve asked is difficult.

I’m not talking about the times that the requests to “get out a sheet or paper” or “open to chapter five” elicit deep, resentful grimaces.  Rather, there are days when the concepts are challenging, the facts obscure, the skills technical and the discussions complex, and someone needs to honor the process of learning by admitting that it won’t come easily, and shouldn’t.  You’re being stretched, I tell them, and out there on the edges of ability, that’s where all of us learn.  I’m thinking of tone, of fantasy writing, of racism, literary criticism, and Shakespeare.  I’m thinking of research writing, the challenge to take many sources of information, evaluate their accuracy and then reassemble them to support our own unique discoveries.  It’s hard.

Interestingly, students usually respond well to this.  Once we all admit we’re doing something difficult, if I know it and they know I know it, everyone seems a bit happier.  It’s still challenging, but it seems more purposeful, as if this acknowledged challenge has more potential for growth than an annoying chore, merely to be endured.

BFA has offered students credit for a Bible project for reading a book called Do Hard Things, by Alex and Brett Harris.  While I haven’t yet read it, I’m intrigued by the premise, which is that American teenagers are withering under a crushing load of low expectations, and the only way out is through seeking challenge for the glory of God.  I admire this step by my school, acknowledging that our students both fear and desire “hard things” as they seek meaning and answers at this critical point in their lives.  It’s an important message for kids, of course, but I can’t accuse them of being the only ones avoiding difficulty.

It reminds me of the importance of challenge in larger communities than the classroom.  If we spend our time telling one another that life is simple, that questions have easy answers and problems clean solutions, we dishonor and ignore the real suffering that meets every human life.  Yes, the Gospel offers the simple gifts of grace and new life, but its message is by no means easy.  Paul refers to the Gospel as a “stumbling block,” and Jesus Himself urges that following him will require us to “take up [our] cross.”  I’m reminded then that life isn’t easy; it’s often hard, yet Christ is with me, every steep step of the way.

Laughter from another end of the library reminds me of the task at hand, and I find three of my students updating their Facebook profiles with quotes they’ve discovered by their authors.  Washington Irving, Emily Dickinson and Frank Herbert speak again, in the open forum tongue of social networking.  I have to laugh.  Challenges, they take us where we never thought we’d go, whether it’s author quotes on Facebook statuses, a Shakespeare class in college, or a Christian high school, halfway around the world.

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2 thoughts on “On Doing Hard Things

  1. OH MY WORD! I had no idea about the Do Hard Things project!! I love that book. I actually read it as a college student on summer break one year — it’s geared more towards high schoolers, but it has so many great concepts for young adults, too. If you read it, I’d love to talk with you about it!!

    “We choose to do hard things because Jesus has done the hardest thing — the thing we could never do for ourselves: He died in our place and paid for our sins. Apart from Him, nothing we attempt or accomplish will ever have any enduring significance. But because He did something of ultimate significance, we can live lives that truly matter, not just for now, but for all eternity… Our trust is not in the greatness of our vision or the strength of our effort, but in the grace and wisdom and goodness of God.”

  2. Two comments: #1 – coming from a girl who climbed Mt. Rainier at the age of 14 w/ her dad, your perspective doesn’t surprise me. #2 – I was skiing yesterday and chose safety all day – at the end of the day I felt rested, but not invigorated. Hard things enliven! #3 – I wonder if “the thing itself” is enough to motivate, or it people will only be motivated by a vision of the future? I think about #3 often when I preach, or work with people: How can I help you live differently? I’m torn between asking simply ‘the hard thing’ and casting the vision of a different tomorrow, one that can only be reached by doing the hard thing today. I’d love to hear your thoughts on the role of vision casting for your students. Thanks for the post

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