Photo credit: Shewanda Riley

By Shewanda Riley

“You didn’t tell us we had to do that.” During the first weeks of school, I hear this phrase at least once per day per class (probably an average of 5-7 times a week) from my college English Composition students. A few years ago, I heard it so much that I started to doubt that I’d given clear instructions on what needed to be done for my classes.

I even reviewed the syllabus and other class assignments to see if I could figure out what I might have left off of the syllabus that could have been the cause of my students’ complaints.   After doing this, I saw that the class instructions and policies were clearly outlined in the class syllabus.   I even redesigned parts of the syllabus to make it easier for them to understand.   However, after doing this and still getting the blank stares and comments like “I didn’t know I was supposed to do that,” a few weeks later, I started to think that the problem went beyond my student simply not understanding instructions. So where was the break down?

When I asked my classes again how I could help them succeed in class, one student shared that me not telling him what to do at the end of class like his other instructors caused him not to get his work done.   I then reminded them that they were in college, and they’d need to remember to read the syllabus. Even though they were adults and in college, they still seemed to struggle with taking full responsibility for completing their classwork.

Later that same day during my office hours, I thought about how challenging it was to get my students to take responsibility and how God must think the same way about us sometimes.   We are given the tools and strategies through our weekly church services and individual times of prayer and bible study.  But for some reason, we want to blame others when we don’t get what we want.   We blame Sis. This or Bro. That for making us lose our joy when it’s really our choice to give it away.

James 2:14-17 says, “Dear friends, do you think you’ll get anywhere in this if you learn all the right words but never do anything? Does merely talking about faith indicate that a person really has it?… Isn’t it obvious that God-talk without God-acts is outrageous nonsense?” (Message) It’s like praying for God to lose weight than continuing to eat junk food and refusing to exercise.

Like my students, we have to accept that we play a part in our spiritual successes and failures.  We can’t passively wait for God to bless us.  We have to be intention as we take an active role and seek out those blessings.   It’s not enough to say that we’re praying for a situation to change; we have to act in faith on what we believe is God’s answer to our prayers.

Shewanda Riley (Aunt Wanda), PhD, is a Fort Worth-based author of “Love Hangover: Moving from Pain to Purpose After a Relationship Ends” and “Writing to the Beat of God’s Heart: A Book of Prayers for Writers.” Email her at or follow her on Twitter @shewanda.   You can also listen to her podcast at