Friday, April 24, 2009

What I Wish I Had Known...for High School Seniors

You are entering a phase in your life that is truly the beginning of a new chapter. You have closed the book on your childhood and are in that waiting room right before adulthood. You may think of it as purgatory at times, but more often, you will probably think of it as endless. Endless in a “good” way, that is. Most college students believe that four years is an eternity. It really isn’t.

I just wanted to put a few things in perspective for you. These are some pearls that I wish that I had been given, and as it says in the Bible, we are not to put our pearls out there to be trampled by swine, so I’m taking quite a risk here in laying it out. And you are taking quite a risk in reading this…because then you remove ignorance from the equation and you can no longer say that you didn’t know.

Every day of my life I hear or see some type of news – be it on the internet, television, radio, or just what I hear in passing – that is a report of something that has gone horribly awry in someone’s life. Often it is something beyond that person’s control – an illness, abandonment, a bad decision by someone that has ricocheted into some poor soul who was simply minding his or her own business. But most frequently, it is because somebody knowingly made a poor decision somewhere along the line that they are paying for that they could have easily avoided. If you leave a little problem alone to grow into a big one, you are just asking for trouble. A sip of wine will not hurt you. Unless, of course, you are an alcoholic. Which you normally do not discover until you actually are one. A tendency to lie or cheat can grow into the loss of trust and eventual jail time if you happen to be a government official who tries to take shortcuts. Risky sexual behavior can give you an STD, a baby, or a permanent loss of self respect.

So, my first piece of advice? Choose where you go and who you go with very carefully, and remain under your parents’ authority. If there’s a chance that you will be caught doing something you shouldn’t be…expect that you will be…and then see if you can live with the consequences. That one mental exercise should keep you out of a good bit of trouble.

Do you want to raise a child alone at age 20? Then go ahead and date the guy your parents hate. Any time that your parents give you a piece of advice – you should strongly consider remaining under their authority. That’s how you get blessed. Unfortunately, in today’s world, kids believe that parents are there to be some kind of combination maid/ATM machine that is terribly out of touch, controlling, and just plain wrong. Well, the truth, my friend, is that this is a lie from the pit of hell. For the vast majority of kids, under the authority of their parents is the safest place to be. If you routinely go outside of those boundaries, then you are asking for far more trouble than you know. Because trouble is certainly out there lurking. And it often doesn’t introduce itself properly.

Any friend who tries to encourage you down a path that leaves you uncomfortable is not a friend. That person is a tool of the devil. I don’t care what their background, belief system, or intentions are. They are just plain wrong. Just keep that in mind. And be on guard for serving in that capacity to other people. Because you can be the person who drags someone down the wrong path much farther than you would ever go just because they admire you and think that’s where you are headed. And it is something that you may never truly recover from witnessing. The destruction of another person on your shoulders is a terrible cross to bear.

My second piece of advice is to focus on your future; and I don’t mean this weekend’s ballgame or spring break either. You should focus on where you want to be in five years. Hopefully, you will see yourself as a college graduate by then, employed, and off of your parents’ payroll. That’s the first and immediate goal. Many see themselves married, traveling abroad, attending graduate, law or medical school, or living somewhere totally different. Those are all worthy of consideration. The first goal is to get the training you will need to do a job and get paid for it, or to have some clear idea of how you are going to do that. At 22, you can probably get away with not being entirely sure (other than having to declare some kind of major), but at 27, you don’t want to be living with Mommy and Daddy and sleeping in your twin bed with the Superman sheets. I hope not, anyway. So, spend some time actually doing internships, talking to people, making contacts, and figuring it out. It comes really fast, and the decisions you are making now will impact you for a very long time. It is fun to play video games with your friends, go shopping, and think that it will last forever. I’m sorry to say that it won’t. Remember to be in the group that actually thinks about it and has a plan. Pray about it. God will lead you.

My third piece of advice is to learn to be grateful. Most young people either are very aware of the sacrifices made for them or completely oblivious to them. Grandparents and parents will not live forever. The teacher that impacted you, the person who led the Bible study that brought you to Christ, the friend who stood by you when you needed one, the neighbor who always asked about you, or the parents of your friends who fed and supported you will not be around forever either. Be aware of the gifts that are being given to you in time, prayer, energy, and love. Don’t take anything for granted. To fully live is to understand that we are all interconnected. God designed it that way.

Remember that failure isn’t fatal. Well, normally it is not. It just feels that way. In some way, every person drawing breath has failed at something. Granted, failing publicly and wasting opportunities are certainly not easy to deal with. But remember that if you do mess up – and chances are that you will – you aren’t unique. Sometimes the things we learn are only taught through failure. Often, we fail because we are too fired up, to arrogant, or too ignorant to listen to the more subtle hints that we are on the wrong track. Or, we have to try to find out that Plan A is not a good idea for us, but we have to move past that to get to Plan B. Most adults are living on Plan M or Plan Z for their lives. Often, Plan A is what we want in our strength, and beyond that is what God wants for us. We just aren’t always bright enough to figure it out. Failure is a pretty good teacher.

Pray a lot. Not many people do. They say that they will or that they do, but they figure out what they want to do most often, and then ask God to bless it. Sometimes He does just so we can see how pathetic our little dreams are. Pray for big dreams. And then be brave enough to follow them even if people think you are stupid or if they don’t understand. I’m not suggesting that you be foolish, but I do believe that you have a purpose or you wouldn’t be here, and if you will dream big dreams, God can and will use you. You just have to line up your dreams with God’s purposes for you. Pray about everything…who to date, what to do with your time, what you should be when you grow up, how you can serve Him, and then remember to say “thank you” when He answers.

Be the person that you want to be if you haven’t been happy with the person you have been in the past. College is a natural break point, and even if you go to college with half of your high school class, you will still have the opportunity to branch out, meet new people, and start over. If you were not a great student, you can be in college…just go to class, read your assignments, and actually do your work. If you were a wild child…find new friends. If you were quiet and ignored…find a group on campus that you fit in with more easily. You’ll be fine. I know people who go to college with the expectation that it will be a continuation of high school. It doesn’t have to be if it was negative. And if your high school experience was good and you really do want it to go on for four more years…then at least try a little diversity by meeting people who might have something positive to teach you.

Just so you know…your parents will likely become significantly more intelligent once you leave home. It may be the stress of paying your way that rendered them unworthy of your respect, or it may be that you find out that the insidious “everybody” who is doing whatever it was you wanted to do don’t really exist. And those who were doing everything that you wanted to do but couldn’t because of your parents are probably not living the life of their dreams. You’ll also find out that your parents are real people with emotions, feelings, strengths and weaknesses, likes and dislikes, and a love for you that is stronger than you can even imagine. Unless you are in a significantly dysfunctional situation, you are going to love coming home. And if they paint your room after you leave, it’s really okay. It doesn’t mean that they don’t love you. It actually means that they have confidence that you will make your own way in the world. And you will.

I hope that this has given you some food for thought. And on that subject – food – try not to eat everything that you were not allowed to at home just because you can go to Krystal at 3 am. Just because it is allowed, doesn’t make it beneficial. If you are one of the ones who believes that the European drinking age of 18 is more your style – and unless you are in Europe at the time I personally think you are an idiot – remember that the most fattening thing you can put in your body short of lard is alcohol.

Take care, and get out there and remember where you came from, enjoy the moment, and make us proud.

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