Pencil Faith Chapter 1 – Test Directions

Dear Morning Devotion Group – Yesterday’s entry completed our Pencil Faith series.  I am in the process of editing my blog entries into an 18 chapter book to be self-bound and given to those I meet with questions about trials.  For the next 18 days I am going to post an edited chapter for our morning devotion.  If you are able to read each day’s chapter, I would appreciate any feedback you might have that could help me in my final copy.  In 18 days we will begin a special blog series on the church.  Thank you.  Larry Jones

Chapter 1 – Test Directions

Tests have always made me anxious.  Some of my friends in school lived for exams as opportunities to showcase their brilliance.  But I saw them as hideous inventions created to expose my flaws and hang them in the public square for the whole world to see.

There was also the test before the test, since it was possible to fail by not following directions.  Fatal mistakes included, 1) being absent without an excuse, 2) forgetting to write one’s name on the upper right-hand corner of the test sheet, and 3) having the audacity to show up with anything but two #2 pencils.

This last requirement, the #2 pencil rule, puzzled me for many years.  I understood why we were asked to bring two pencils, as it was easy to break a pencil lead in a moment of frustration.  But what was special about the #2?

One day I decided it was time to unmask this great mystery, so I launched an Internet query.  I discovered pencil lead, which is now made of graphite, is rated by density.  Low and high numbers signify soft and hard lead, respectively.  When the first computer test sheets appeared, #1 pencil lead was found to smear, and #3 or #4 pencils leads left marks that were too light for the computer to read.  The #2 lead, however, hit the sweet spot, and became the required tool for students everywhere.

I remember sitting at my desk on test day with my #2 pencils, and my name in the upper right-hand corner of my answer sheet.  As the teacher passed out question booklets I felt empowered by the fresh opportunity to distinguish myself.  In fact, I was already ahead of one or two students who had failed to follow instructions.  Unfortunately, that was as good as I was going to feel that day.

Obviously, the best way to reduce anxiety over tests is to prepare well in advance through disciplined study.  What I lacked in this area as a youth I have far exceeded in my obsessive-compulsive patterns as an adult.

Soon after my fiftieth birthday I underwent shoulder surgery to repair a torn rotator cuff.  I spent some time in emergency rooms as a child, but this was the first time I had voluntarily allowed an anesthesiologist to put me to sleep so a surgeon could cut into my body.

My surgeon assured me it was “a piece of cake.”  He showed me a model of a shoulder to illustrate the simplicity of the procedure and said there was nothing to worry about.  But the day of the operation his medical team painted a very different picture.

There were risks: I was asked to sign a stack of release forms acknowledging I was aware the operation might not go as planned.  There were warnings: I was advised not to make any major decisions or enter into any legal agreements while I was recovering from the anesthesia. And there were anticipations:  I would experience some pain, but it could be managed if I took my medication on time.  Fortunately my anesthesiologist, a family friendly, ordered a Novocain dispenser for the days following the surgery. I highly recommend it!

I listened carefully and signed my life away, but one word in particular troubled me.  Evidently, while shoulder patients are knocked out, surgeons “manipulate” their arms in a sadistic manner to free up frozen joints.

I protested, “Who watches the doctor to make sure he doesn’t get carried away?”

“Oh Mr. Jones,” the nurse replied.  “He does it all the time.  You don’t need to worry.”

There was a flaw in the logic something was safe just because it was commonplace.  Just because someone is in a habit of riding a motorcycle without a crash helmet doesn’t make it a good idea.  I did trust my surgeon, but the more I heard, the more nervous I became.  Which raises the question: Is it better to know the full nature of a test, or continue in ignorance?

I have thought about the answer to this question as it relates to God’s providential care in my life.  Is it better to know the outcome of my circumstances, and why I have been allowed to go through them?  Or it is best to suffer in silence, trusting that God will be faithful?  Is there an ideal balance between the two?  Not only are these questions important in my own life, but they describe the quest for truth by others who seek out my spiritual counsel.

About LJones

Minister and story teller.
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