To my kids:
It's that time again--back to school. Seeing as how I've spent pretty much my whole life in school, I know the feelings well: a strange mix of excitement and nerves and fear and all of it ties your brain and your stomach up in knots. I'm teaching again this fall after 3 years away from the classroom, and I know that even though I've faced a new semester 58 times before (believe me, I counted), I'll still have butterflies in my stomach when I walk into a new classroom for the 59th semester. I know you get tired of me giving you advice, but I also know that you realize it won't ever stop... so I'm going to take that as an open invitation ;)
First, embrace discomfort this year. The world teaches us to chase after comfort, but that's not what's best for you. You don't do much growing when you're comfortable--mentally, physically, emotionally, or spiritually.
- Mental comfort keeps you from learning new things. It keeps you in a place where things come easily, but if you stay in that place you are going to miss out on so much. For me, the comfortable place for me, mentally, was always words. I've always been a writer, and words always came easily to me. If I had stayed there, though, I would have missed out on so much. My studies in physics have opened up entirely different aspects of the world for me, and I can't imagine what life would be like today if I hadn't embraced the discomfort of those studies.
- Physical comfort is misleading. In all honesty, if you are always comfortable physically, you're probably actually getting weaker. You don't better yourself by only being willing to be in situations where you'll come out on top--you get better by pushing and failing. It is incredibly easy for physical comfort to turn into laziness, which will bleed over into other areas of your life. Push yourself. If you feel like you can't run any further, force 10 more steps. Learn to deal with pain (you know, like when I ever so lovingly tell you to "walk it off," sharing the wisdom of my father); you can handle a lot more than you think you can, and most of it's just a mental game.
- Emotional comfort usually means you aren't taking emotional risks. It's easy to convince yourself that that's a good thing. I did that myself for a long time, so I understand the draw. When you put yourself in a place to be emotionally uncomfortable, you're making yourself vulnerable. Being vulnerable is a scary thing, because it's easy to get hurt when you're vulnerable. The thing is, though, if you aren't vulnerable from time to time you'll miss out on so many amazing opportunities. Yes, you'll get hurt if you let yourself embrace emotional discomfort. That's a given in life, and you don't avoid being hurt by avoiding discomfort. But you do miss out on a whole lot of other amazing things.
- Spiritual comfort isn't something you see very much of in the Bible. For Christians in the United States, though, it's really common. Most of us get into a routine with our spiritual life--we have specific habits when it comes to church attendance, prayers, Bible study, service, worship... if something comes along that's outside of our spiritual comfort zone, we're quick to brush it aside. The thing is, in our comfort we often miss out on what God has for us. In Genesis 12, we see the following command: "Eternal One: Abram, get up and go! Leave your country. Leave your relatives and your father’s home, and travel to the land I will show you." God called Abram to leave everything he knew. I can tell you, that doesn't sound very comfortable to me. In 1 Kings 17, we see the same thing for Elijah: "Eternal One: I want you to travel away from this place and go east. Keep yourself hidden near the Cherith stream, east of the Jordan." Time and again we see the same thing--God has amazing things in store for people, but they have to step out of their comfort zone if they want to actually be part of it. Ruth... Moses... David... Esther... Boaz... Elijah... Peter... Daniel... Joshua... Mary... Paul... none of them were given quiet, comfortable spiritual lives. Each one had to risk everything they knew to follow God. Don't limit yourself by sitting quietly in your comfort zone. Be willing to do the uncomfortable when God asks--and He will, I guarantee it.
Second, don't take yourself too seriously. I'm probably not the best example of someone living out this piece of advice. I tend to overthink things (okay, pretty much everything) and have a hard time just letting go and enjoying things as they come. From time to time, though, I've actually succeeded at doing just that. And let me tell you, those are some of the best memories I have. Those are the times when I've really seen the joy and beauty around me, the times my stomach and cheeks have hurt from laughing so hard, when I've stopped worrying about how my face looks when I'm really wrapped up in something, and when I've just let go of all the insecurities for a little while. When you get the chance to really enjoy something, don't worry about how it will make you look. So if one of the elementary kids asks you to swing with them or play tag, go for it. Join in with joy and show them how great life can be if you let it.
Last, and most importantly, do everything you can to keep your focus on God. The world will do everything it can to get you to focus on other things--success, friends, grades. Those aren't bad things by any means, but that's what makes it so hard. You have to make the conscious decision to put the best above what's good. You can't be close to God unless you make Him the priority--before family, friends, sports, school... none of that can be put above Him. This world is spinning into chaos. If your life isn't built on God's truth as your foundation, then everything will crumble.
I hope that this year will lead you closer to finding out who you are in God's plan. I pray that you will be drawn closer to Him by everything that happens, and that He will give you wisdom and peace. I pray that you will be shining lights in a dark world, pointing others to the source of all hope and all that's good.