Faithful Learning – Helping Middle School Students Discover God’s Pennies
By Stacy Fuller, Middle School Science
A big part of my childhood was spent in northern Canada – playing in the forests, building snow houses, cross country skiing – I absolutely loved it. As I grew up, I always enjoyed spending time outside – something about it brought me joy and life. When I became a Christian it became clear to me that I feel the deepest connection to God when I am surrounded by his Creation… reading my Bible outside, prayer outside, worshiping outside – connecting with others. I’m not partial to any particular type of Creation – lakes, rivers, oceans, ponds, mountains, valleys, prairies, forests, the night sky – a sunset, a sunrise – the list can go on and on.
The first morning we were here, I felt such a deep feeling of joy when I looked outside our windows and saw all the green trees and heard all the birds, it was like new life was being breathed right into me. Walking on campus every day brings me such joy – surrounded by so much beauty right in front of us, everywhere we look. Of course – I don’t always take the time to notice, or to see – life gets busy and I put my head down and don’t take time to look around me. It reminded me of an excerpt from a book I’ve read from Annie Dillard called the Pilgrim at Tinker Creek:
When I was six or seven years old, growing up in Pittsburgh, I used to take a precious penny of my own and hide it for someone else to find. It was a curious compulsion; sadly, I’ve never been seized by it since. For some reason I always “hid” the penny along the same stretch of sidewalk up the street. I would cradle it at the roots of a sycamore, say, or in a hole left by a chipped-off piece of sidewalk. Then I would take a piece of chalk, and, starting at either end of the block, draw huge arrows leading up to the penny from both directions. After I learned to write I labeled the arrows: SURPRISE AHEAD or MONEY THIS WAY. I was greatly excited, during all this arrow-drawing, at the thought of the first lucky passer-by who would receive in this way, regardless of merit, a free gift from the universe. But I never lurked about. I would go straight home and not give the matter another thought, until, some months later, I would be gripped again by the impulse to hide another penny.
I’ve been thinking about seeing. There are lots of things to see, unwrapped gifts and free surprises. The world is fairly studded and strewn with pennies cast broadside from a generous hand. But—and this is the point—who gets excited by a mere penny? If you follow one arrow, if you crouch motionless on a bank to watch a tremulous ripple thrill on the water and are rewarded by the sight of a muskrat kid paddling from its den, will you count that sight a chip of copper only, and go your rueful way? It is dire poverty indeed when a man is so malnourished and fatigued that he won’t stoop to pick up a penny. But if you cultivate a healthy poverty and simplicity, so that finding a penny will literally make your day, then, since the world is in fact planted in pennies, you have with your poverty bought a lifetime of days. It is that simple. What you see is what you get.
I am reminded that I want to keep cultivating a healthy poverty and simplicity so that finding a ‘penny’ will make my day – and that I take the time to stop, look, listen, see and hear how God can speak to me through his creation.
As I thought about this more – since God is the creator of ALL things – the entire created world, we can see these ‘pennies’ throughout our days in many other ways, besides the natural world. We can see his pennies in a beautiful song, in a complex math problem, in a well written poem or story (or any other piece of writing), studying history, and in the smiles of people that we see every day – even in the goofiness of middle schoolers. I am confident that at least one of the reasons we teach the subjects we do, and even the age group that we do, is because we find great joy in that, and we see God’s beauty in it. We feel rich spending time doing it. As we know, life gets busy and it’s easy to go through the motions of life, but I want to encourage us to take the time to look for the pennies in our day that connect us with God and his creation and then give those pennies away. We want to show our students the pennies we find every day and help them to see how God speaks to us in each of our classes, and they will become very rich indeed. I pray that we will see and hear how God is speaking to us as we walk through this day – however we spend our days – because he is a God of variety and creativity, and his Spirit flows through all of his created world.