Tuesday, September 3, 2013

An Open Letter To Students Heading Back to School

Dear Student Heading Back to School,

After a three-day weekend and three months of vacation, school begins anew this week.

I'm sorry. I wish I had better news for you.

For some, it feels like a fresh start, a hopeful getting-back-into-my-routine sense of optimism. For others, it feels like the end of the world, the world meaning summer vacation. There are so many directions this next chapter of life could go; it's filled with limitless possibilities and options.

This year could totally suck, or it could be totally awesome. Much of it depends on you.

As I was pondering and praying for all the students going back to school, a few words of wisdom came to mind for you. Here are three little nuggets of advice as you begin the school year:

Be present. You can interpret this phrase in a number of ways: be present in your classes, be awake during those classes, be aware of the people around you, etc. Mostly, I mean it this way: be here. Listen. Notice. Take it all in. Don't freak out so much about that huge project or final exams, and don't get so eager for the next school break that you miss what's happening in this very moment. Be present with people--put your cell phone away and take the ear buds out and just talk with people, face-to-face. Instead of allowing yourself to be overly defined by the past and overly anxious about the future, embrace each moment and each day as its own.

Be curious. Become a lifelong learner. Be humble and teachable. Every situation, conversation, and person you encounter is an opportunity for growth. Yes, the public educational system often squashes our curiosity and imagination through standardized testing and outdated educational philosophies. Don't succumb to the dismantling of your childlike curiosity; keep reading and listening and seeking and questioning and wondering. Make a new friendship, one that you wouldn't usually pursue, and see where it leads. Read books that are genuinely good. I recommend Hemingway, O'Conner, Lewis, and McCarthy.

Be honest. Communicate the truth. Say what you mean and mean what you say. No lies, no insincerity, no b.s., and no deception. If you screwed up, own it. If you feel strongly about something, say it. Pursue authenticity, vulnerability, and self-awareness in all circumstances and relationships. Don't cheat on exams or your homework; getting a good grade in school isn't worth sacrificing your integrity. In a culture where half-truths and social masks are the norm, choose to be different.

I'll be praying for you this year. I'd invite you to do the same--you know, pray. Wherever you're at with the whole God and spirituality thing, this act of asking for wisdom outside of ourselves is, in itself, a healthy pursuit. The God of the Bible promises to give wisdom when we ask it, so it couldn't hurt to inquire. May this next chapter be filled with joy and growth and friendship and pizza. Yes, pizza. It's delicious.

grace and peace,

joel

Feel free to share these words of wisdom with others! What would you add to the letter?

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