It is an old and true aphorism that when the pupil is ready the teacher arrives. I fully believe this because I have experienced it in my own life and also because I have recognized this pattern in the lives of others around me. It helps, of course, that I sometimes also find this pattern in literature.
After writing of his mother’s prayers and tears on his behalf Augie writes about a time when his mother took it to another level. She somehow learned of a bishop and made an acquaintance with this high-level churchman. She did so, it seems, less for herself and more because she was a woman on a mission: to get her son into the faith. She asked the bishop to meet with her son and refute his error, to “unteach me the bad I learnt and teach me the good.” Apparently the man was known for his ability to do so and had a history of identifying suitable candidates to pour himself into (easy to see how such a man rises in the church).
The catch? This man met Augustine (who would become a giant in the faith, founding schools of thoughts, monasteries, and whose words and ideas would be taught and studied in universities for centuries) and found him…lacking. He deemed poor Augie an unsuitable candidate. He refused to teach him anything. The bishop saw that Augustine was at that time unteachable, “puffed up with novelty” and thus counselled the woman to simply pray for him and to trust that he was a smart enough individual to one day realize the errors in his thinking, since he was clearly going to continue studying and searching for truth; like it was only a matter of time before he found his way to it.
What wisdom that man had!
Instead of creating an enemy of the church he gently suggested time, prayer, and the hand of God should be allowed to do their work. He knew this could work because, as it happens, it was his own story as well.
I take great heart in this because I was one who left the faith, struggled with the God I understood to be taught by the church. I too loved all sorts of ideas, was attracted to novelty, thought certain ideas were new (they weren’t) and clever (they were well written anyways). Truthfully, it was gratifying to think myself above some who thought themselves so moral and upright, you know the arrogant side of a young man loves to be fired up. I was a poor candidate, and any argument would only have entrenched me further, a gentler, slower approach was needed.
Some of us want to convince others of the veracity of our faith, I wonder if, sometimes at least, this is less for the sake of others and more to save face ourselves. What I mean is when people reject the faith they may reject us, or at least look down on us as silly for believing “old wives tales.” I know what this is like, I have a sibling who argued that becoming a minister was the absolute worst thing I could do for my kids, and a friend who when she learned of my calling ended our relationship and on her way out said, “well, I knew you guys were sort of different but I didn’t know you were crazy.” Painful? Yes. Worthy of debate? Not so much. We must be like that bishop, careful to keep our eyes on the good of the other person and on the wellbeing of the church, rather than of our bruised egos or social standing. We can pray that when the right day comes the teacher will arrive.
For me it happened as Augie describes, partly through my own studying and finding other worldviews that were at first so exciting lacking/unsatisfying in the long run, and partly through the arrival of a teacher (or series of teachers in my stubborn case) who made the faith seem plausible, understandable, even rational in a sense. And so while I am no Augustine, I am amazed again at how like my life his was! Maybe you identify with him, maybe you identify more with the mother in the tale, either way I hope you can see God at work in their story and in yours.
And when it comes to our loved ones, let’s pray the teacher will arrive when the moment is right.