Harder Assignments

All across the nation children and families have one thing on their mind:  it's back to school time.  Some schools have already started and others will start very soon.  For some young people and their families, this year represents a very significant back to school transition: starting full-time kindergarden or first grade, starting middle or high school, or heading off to college.  These transitions are, of course, big for both the young people and the parents. Last year, the Washington Post interviewed some kids regarding their thoughts and feelings about going back to school.  Here are three quotes from students of various ages:

“I am so scared, because I don't know what it's going to be like in kindergarten. I won't see my Mom when I am at kindergarten. I want my Mom to hug me a lot when I come home after school. I want to hug my Mom a lot, too.”  Brian Mason, age 5.

“I have mixed feelings about my first year in middle school. I'm excited for the novelty of switching classes, but though this may sound juvenile, I am going to miss my 15-minute recess, because it was always a nice break from the monotonous school day.”  Zachary Stevenson, age 11

“When I go back to school, I like to shop for school supplies. Sharp pencils and clean notebooks make me feel like a new person. I dread to hear how big I've gotten. Growing up is too scary. But I love having harder assignments. I like to take on new challenges.”  Abigail Clark, age 9

In honor of the millions of people that are going back to school this time of year, I would like to offer a thought for those of us who are not taking formal classes this fall, as well. This is a great time for those of us whose formal schooling ended years ago, to remember that all of life continues to be a classroom, if we are but willing to be open to the learning.  Life is constantly presenting us with new problems to be solved and new lessons to be learned. In the quotes above, Brian, age 5, is worried about dealing with separation from his mother.  I have news for Brian:  learning to let go of people we love is a lesson that we are faced with at every stage of our life.  Our relationships throughout our life are an ongoing dance of connecting and letting go.  We are always learning anew how to graciously let go of what has been in order to embrace and live fully into what is today.

Zachary, age 11, is quoted as saying that he is going to miss recess now that he is entering middle school.  This is a challenge that we all face as we get older.  Life gets more serious and yet if we are not mindful we can minimize the importance of play in our life.  Adult recess time is vital, not just for one's personal wellness, but also for one's relationships with friends and family.

Abigail, age 9, says, “Growing up is too scary. But I love having harder assignments.” Growing up is scary.  The assignments do indeed get harder.  As a pastor and a therapist I have people come and talk to me everyday about the “harder assignments” that they have been given.  These harder assignments include illness, a job loss, marital difficulties, worrying about an adult child, financial worries, depression, aging, spiritual emptiness, and the death of a love one. Learning always takes place in community with others.   As adults, we need to create our own “schools” to work on these “harder assignments.” In these schools we need to associate with other students who are working on similar assignments--it's not a good idea to try and learn important lessons on your own. We also need to find wise teachers and guides that can help us along the way.  In fact, in these adult schools, we are all students and we are all teachers at times--we take turns being teachers to one another.  We will also benefit from a having good curriculum, which might include a variety of spiritual writings or participation in a faith community.  One of the primary functions of a faith community is to be a school for people of all ages.

What lesson is life offering to you right now?

What are you being asked to learn?

What other students and/or teachers do you need to connect with to support your learning and for you to learn from?

In the spirit of this time of this back to school season, may all of us, children and adults alike, approach our lessons with curiosity and excitement.  There is still much for each of us to learn on this amazing journey we call life.