On Pear Trees and Purposeful Prayer

Sometimes I am so distraught over the foolishness of my high school students.

Why? Why would you challenge another student to throw a water bottle down the entire length of the school hallway in the minutes between classes when you know such actions have been forbidden? Why would you insult the classmate that you know is especially sensitive to comments about her character? Why?

And, then, the Lord brings me Augustine's Confessions. Every fall, I start my 10th Grade English course with Augustine's Confessions. This is not of my own choosing. This was part of the school's curriculum long before I had even graduated high school myself. And, I am thankful for that - thankful for things chosen for me that I desperately need. Really, all of the most beautiful and wonderful things in my life are those that have been chosen for me long before I began to consider them.

Each fall this text chosen for me to teach invites me to reconsider Augustine's childhood. It invites me to remember anew that my students might too one day agonize over the choices of their youth. Reflecting on his pear thievery Augustine laments, "It was my own love of mischief that made me do it. The evil in me was foul, but I loved it. I loved my own perdition and my own faults, not the things for which I committed wrong, but the wrong itself" (47). The pear tree, symbolic as it is within the text, must become even more symbolic for me in my classroom. As Leland Ryken explains in his guide to Confessions, “Externally it is an example of what we would call petty theft, but in Augustine’s imagination and theological analysis it becomes nothing less than a paradigm for the essence of human sinfulness” (26). Many of my students are yet slaves to sin and my daily prayer must be for their rescue.

But, I may never see that rescue come to pass. And, the fact that I may never see it come to pass might very well be for my own sanctification. Later on in the text, Augustine recounts a lecture of his that made a lasting impression on one of his students (of sorts). He says to the Lord, "You used me to set him on the right path, but so that we might recognize that it was all by your doing, you used me without my knowledge" (120). Oh, that the Lord might use me without my knowledge and that my awareness of this longing might keep me from wearying of the work before me!