Friday, April 25, 2008

Confessions of a Would-Be Genius


Very early on in life, I showed signs of being intellectually gifted. I learned to read before I reached kindergarten. By first grade, I was separated from the rest of my class because I was already at a fourth-grade reading level. In high school, I was good at everything. School has always been easy for me. But I didn’t really grasp how intelligent I was until a few years ago. I took the MAT in January 2006 and scored 47 points higher than the minimum required score to be admitted to my doctoral program. Curious, I did some research to see if I could gain entrance into Mensa, the world’s leading community for people of superior intelligence. Unfortunately, my MAT scores were two percentile points lower than Mensa’s minimum. So I called my high school and had them look up every IQ test I have taken since first grade. Amazingly, I consistently scored just two or three points below Mensa’s minimum requirements on every single IQ test I’ve ever taken in my lifetime. So I’m not a genius after all. But almost!

A high IQ is a gift from God. But all too often, people abuse that gift and use it to become puffed up and arrogant. It is especially important for women who are very intelligent to use this gift with humility, always with the attitude that every gift and talent we have been given is to be used to glorify God and God alone. If intelligent women are not careful, their prideful displays of intellect can intimidate the men around them and come across as disrespect.

I cringe whenever I look back on my adolescence. I can’t help but wonder how my father must have felt when his sixteen-year-old daughter would systematically dismantle the thought process behind his every decision. My attitude toward my father spilled over into my relationships with other men. It was all about power and control, and making these men look as stupid as humanly possible, especially if they hurt me.He was so handsome. He was so popular. Every girl in school was practically throwing themselves at him. But somehow, a proud old woman who smelled of moth balls and cigarette smoke had managed to cut him to shreds. I never wanted to scoop a man into my arms more than I did at that moment and say, “I think you’re wonderful.” But I just sat there.

When I was in the tenth grade, I studied geometry, my favorite area of mathematics. I was a year ahead of the other kids and my teacher, Mrs. Scott, made no effort to keep my mathematical ability a secret. She often would compare the other students to me, and she was absolutely ruthless about it. There were some very good looking boys in my math class whom she ridiculed on a regular basis, especially one boy in particular, “Sal.” One day, Sal gave a wrong answer to a homework problem. Mrs. Scott reacted by callously announcing to the class, “Not everyone will grow up to be great like Jennifer will. Sal will probably become a garbage man.” Then she winked at me. I looked at Sal, who simply stared into his textbook, his ears a deep shade of red. He was so handsome. He was so popular. Every girl in school was practically throwing themselves at him. But somehow, a proud old woman who smelled of moth balls and cigarette smoke had managed to cut him to shreds. I never wanted to scoop a man into my arms more than I did at that moment and say, “I think you’re wonderful.” But I just sat there.

At that time, I was developing a friendship with “Joey,” who had asked me to the junior prom. I happily accepted. But shortly after the “garbage man” incident, Joey suddenly stopped talking to me. It seems Sal and the other boys in class were teasing Joey for asking the “sophomore math whiz” to the junior prom. Joey did take me to the prom, (I think his mother forced him to) but he refused to speak to me the entire night. We never danced even once. A week after the prom was over, Joey said I was "annoying" and told me never to speak to him again. For the rest of the school year, Sal, Joey, and the entire Varsity Baseball Team laughed at me whenever I entered the room.

I was angry and hurt, and I missed Joey's company. At the end of the year, when it was time to take the New York State Regents Exam for Sequential II Mathematics, I deliberately chose a desk at the back of the gym. In less than half the time we were given to take the exam, I got up from my seat and walked through the sea of “average” students to turn in my exam. Mrs. Scott smiled and said, “Don’t you want to double-check your work?”

I arrogantly asserted, “No. I don’t have to.” Then I crumpled up my scratch paper and “accidentally” dropped it at Sal’s feet. “Oops!” I said. “Sal, could you get that for me?” Sal picked up the crumpled up piece of paper and tossed it into the garbage pail that was about five feet away. “You know, you're pretty good at that,” I said. With a toss of my head, I proudly and defiantly walked away. I had humiliated this boy in front of the entire Class of 1991, the wooden soles of my shoes ringing throughout the gymnasium as I made my grand exit. (I ended up getting a 97 on that exam, and was completely stunned and disappointed that I did not score a perfect grade of 100, which shows you where my heart was.)

Long after I graduated from high school and became a Christian, I heard through the grapevine that Sal had indeed become a sanitation worker in our hometown. Upon hearing this news, my heart sank and I hung my head in shame, remembering how I had disrespected this boy so many years ago. I wish I could take it back, but I can’t. Truly, there is nothing wrong with being a “garbage man.” Any man who works an honest living deserves to be heralded as a great man who fulfills his responsibilities of providing for himself and his family. The sin lies in the wickedness of cutting a man down so badly, he gives up on any idea of exploring his true potential.

We should never mock a man for the kind of work he does, or shame him for not aspiring to a higher position, especially since God is sovereign and calls each of us to various assignments in life. As women, we need to be supportive of men and express our gratitude for the way they protect us and provide for us and sacrifice for us. And we should never use our intelligence to puff ourselves up over anyone, especially a man. Not only is this sinful, but it is pointless because intelligence is a useless form of currency in the Kingdom of God. Death is the great equalizer. The Bible reminds us that the wise man and the fool both have the same fate (Ecclesiastes 2:15-17). No matter how smart you are or think you may be, your brains will rot in the grave, just like everyone else’s. God gives us our talents first to glorify Him and then to edify others. When we misuse our gifts for our own glory, it turns to ashes, as the Bible says that all things will pass away – that includes any great accomplishment of yours that was not done for the Lord. This is why we must live for Him. Because without God, there is nothing.

I don’t know where Sal is today. But if I could tell him one thing, I’d want him to know that he is not a loser. He is created in the image of God, and that makes him a precious miracle and a mystery all wrapped up in one. I’d do everything in my power to demonstrate to him that he has my respect, regardless of whether or not he feels he deserves it. Sal, wherever you are, my heart goes out to you. Please forgive me. Please forgive me.

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