As another school year comes to a close, I am reminded of the cycles of life and the transitions that accompany those cycles. There is a palpable excitement and energy when classes begin each September, with several ups and downs before the closing of the school year when students and staff are understandably more interested in enjoying the weather than being inside. It seems as though there is value in the learnings that accompany all of these cycles...a time to be energized, a time to pause and take note or to rest, and a time to reach outside of ourselves.
This coming 2015-2016 academic year, the Office of Campus Ministry at King's University College is pleased to be hosting our annual Veritas Series for Faith and Culture, which endeavors to foster learning and dialogue by gathering artists, scholars and theologians, who support and challenge us in living lives of faith and justice.
Life holds many challenges, including the pain of loss, but it also holds the promise of rebirth and new life, such as the cycles of life for both human beings and the natural world. This year's Veritas series seeks to address the theme of the dying and rising that occurs in life and in our journey of faith and will propose answers for how we might find hope and peace in the promises offered to us by God.
As we near the end of another school year, life transitions are in flux - a kind of dying and rising. For some students this will mean graduation and a sense of excitement as well as a potential sense of loss as they move forward in different directions from their closest friends; for some it means transition to work, travel, or post-secondary education; for some it will mean a summer of fun with friends and family or summer employment; for others it will mean long periods of loneliness. The end of the school year and the inevitable change that accompanies it may be eagerly anticipated or unwanted and even anxiety provoking.
Whatever position each student finds themselves in, every change in life brings joys and/or challenges. Amidst these joys and challenges, one common theme frequently emerges at times of change and transition; a shift of identity. For those students who are graduating, there may be a strong sense of direction around future hopes and dreams, but others may have a strong sense of uncertainty as to what the future holds and what direction to take. It can be helpful to explore with students Biblical promises that can support their confidence in knowing that God will be faithful to guide and direct them as they seek God in prayer.
Scripture reminds us that God's word is a "lamp to my feet and a light to my path (Psalm 119:105). The book of Jeremiah can also be a comfort as God says: "'For I know the plans I have for you', declares the LORD, 'plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future' (29:11)."
In such times of transition, it is important to be aware of the emotional uneasiness and even distress that can arise for students; sometimes manifested in what might look like self-sabotage through poor decision making, lack of time management and organization, or isolation. The unknowns that come with the ending of one stage and the beginning of a new one can be overwhelming. Talking to students about common responses to times of transition can help to normalize their experience, rather than leaving them to think that there's something wrong with how they're feeling. Here are some practical ways, '5 Ps', to encourage students through this transition:
- Prayer: a vital spiritual practice that we often neglect, but hold the promise of connection and deepening relationship with the Divine.
- Planning: maintaining some daily schedule and routine, and setting reasonable goals to help keep on course from day to day, even if the future is unknown.
- People: seeking out wise council from the people in our lives who we trust and admire.
- Perspective: the practice of gratitude can be a great way to remember what really matters in life.
- Perseverance: maintaining a hopeful mindset, even when things are difficult.
A resource for educators that can help in navigating the complex issues faced by teens as they transition from one year to the next in high school or when they come to graduate is: http://teenmentalhealth.org/
It can also be very worthwhile to introduce and encourage the practice of self-reflection. It seems in our present day that daily prayer and reflection is not always highly valued. Yet, it is of such great importance in nurturing our spiritual journeys and our personal self-awareness to take time regularly, if not daily, to pause and take stock of the moment. I can appreciate that this idea seems daunting to anyone of any age if there are expectations attached to it, such as the length of time one needs to take in reflection and prayer. Even a few moments can provide a powerful connection with God and with ourselves. Prayer can be an ongoing, fluid activity throughout our day as we offer thanks and gratitude for the blessing of food, shelter, family and friends, or for peacefulness during an exam that we were anxious about, or petitions for loved ones and those in need within our local and global communities.
Offering a prayer for another can be a powerful way to bless others, particularly those who may look up to us, such as students. My youngest daughter, who just turned four years old, graduated this month from the daycare she has been attending part-time over the past year. It is a Christian daycare program and I was moved and struck by the lovely prayer offered at the beginning of the graduation ceremony. The coordinator of the program prayed that each child would know God's love for them, would be guided by God's love and care, and that they would have God's hand of protection on them in their future. I would strongly encourage you to consider offering a prayer of blessing for your class as a parting message of all that you hope for them from that day forward.
"My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going.
I do not see the road ahead of me.
I cannot know for certain where it will end.
Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that
I think I am following Your will does not mean that I am
actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please You
does in fact please you.
And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing.
I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire.
And I know that, if I do this, You will lead me by the right toad,
though I may know nothing about it.
Therefore I will trust You always though I may seem to be lost...
I will not fear, for You are ever with me..."
- Thomas Merton
A final song and video of encouragement from the SALT project (http://www.saltproject.org/) as students enter into their summers and into their futures:
Melissa Page Nichols MSW, RSW
Office of Campus Ministry
King's University College