“God chose weak things to shame the strong; things that are not to cancel things that are.” – 1 Corinthians 1:27-28
A friend sent me this poem:
By Jim Daniels
Today my son realized someone’s smarter
than him. Not me or his mom—
he still thinks we know everything—
one of the other kids, Nathan. Making fun
of him at the computer terminal
for screwing up at the math game.
Other kids laughing at him. Second grade.
I’m never gonna be as smart as him, he says.
I’m never gonna be as smart
as half my students if we’re talking
IQs. He doesn’t want me to explain.
He wants me to acknowledge
that he’s dumb. He’s lying in bed
and taking his glasses off and on,
trying to get them perfectly clean
for the morning. I’m looking around
his dark room for a joke or some
decent words to lay on him. His eyes
are glassy with almost-tears. Second grade.
The world wants to call on him.
I take his hand in mine.
Scripture says God favors weak things, using smallness to shame the great. It also promises grand reversals: unimpressive things will become the impressive protagonists of God’s plan. The boy David becomes a king. The mustard seed grows to biblical proportions.
Faith clings to this hope, that small things count. Yet our experience daily belies that hope. Grand reversals are few. For every obscure boy who becomes a king, for every seed that grows large enough to harbor nests, countless other small and hidden things stay hidden and small.
The disciple’s challenge may not be so much to believe in great reversals, but to find enough compassion to companion the mystery of a second-grader who will never be as smart in math as his friend, Nathan; the mystery of so many Nathans who by second grade have already mastered the world’s contemptuous ways.
Math-challenged kids matter, O God. Take their hands in yours. Amen.
*”Dim,” by Jim Daniels, reprinted from Revolt of the Crash-Test Dummies, Eastern Washington University Press, 2007. His latest collection of poems, Rowing Inland, was published in 2017 by Wayne State University Press.
Mary Luti is a long time seminary educator and pastor, author of Teresa of Avila’s Way and numerous articles, and founding member of The Daughters of Abraham, a national network of interfaith women’s book groups.