I find myself standing at a junction between the pinnacle of my youth and the foundation of my adult life. From this vantage point, I am able to look back and consider four packed years of high school, where the bulk of preparation for this transition has occurred. My time at Lincoln Lutheran was a growing period for me, and it has contributed both to my understanding of other people and to my understanding of myself.
After countless interactions, I have learned that, with all their variation, people are still just people. My mind tends to jump quickly to brash classifications, distorting my perception of others, and this impedes relationships. I have been easily intimidated by first impressions, fearing differences in thought, skill, or occupation. I have felt initially inferior to some and superior to others based on these differences, and the distance has been difficult to overcome. Yet when I take the time to know new faces, I find comfortably unimposing personalities behind them.
Once I relate to similarities in other people, I can begin to empathize with them and appreciate those fine differences which outline personality. Recognizing distinctions in others has taught me also to recognize them in myself and value the life experiences that have irreplicably shaped me. My unique perspective is a gift, and sharing it is one motive for actively communicating and writing.
In this letter, I have written specifically on my time at Lincoln Lutheran, considering the personal advice I would give to a new student entering high school. Even if you aren’t in high school, I believe these topics appeal to common human experience and apply generally to most situations. First, if I had your interest, I would tell you something I often tell myself.
Own your decisions. Being an involved high school student means you will make large time commitments to many different groups and people. You will feel the weight of those obligations when you look at your schedule, but you can chose to respond in two very different ways. (1) You can victimize yourself as the tired and thankless worker who has selflessly given up personal comfort for the benefit of others. (2) You can acknowledge as personal compensation each and every success or frustration that comes with the role you have chosen to play.
The first mindset will rob you of your choice and your freedom, and therefore also your joy. You will either hopelessly slave over your own expectations or you will become apathetic and slough over your responsibilities. Often times, I have made myself the victim, clouding the satisfaction of commitment with a melancholy to-do list. With the second mindset I have seen joy in both highs and lows. Take the leap of commitment to claim your decisions as conscious and purposeful choices, and you will feel deeper fulfillment in what comes out from it.
What comes about from your decisions may not be what you expect. This is because you cannot possibly see or begin to control every variable. In no way does this invalidate your decisions, but you need to remember that you exist, not in a vacuum, but in relation to many others who affect the course you travel. You make a difference to them too, but not the whole difference, so suffocate your pride.
Even if you were given authority over all things, your mind could not juggle them simultaneously. Your mind holds only select topics, and temporarily suspends the rest. When you look at yourself, don’t imagine you can see your whole self. You see only one face. You are a collection of much more, despite the illusion of your narrow focus.
Therefore, don’t waste your opportunities simply because you find them presently irrelevant. Don’t slack off on your theology and your poetry just because your quick mind excels at calculations. Don’t ignore the arts because you consider yourself an engineer. Likewise, don’t ever say, “I’m not a math person,” and miss out on the patterns that govern aesthetics. I have been most fulfilled by the classes in which I have applied myself, regardless of perceived ability. This fact extends beyond academics into sports, relationships, and social involvement. Try new things constantly, and never limit yourself.
I have found one of the biggest high school limitations to be self-restraining passivity. The wise King Solomon once called the spiritually inert soul a “sluggard,” warning that “a little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest, and poverty will come upon you like a robber, and want like an armed man” (Proverbs 24:33-34). Now laziness in school is not the same thing as spiritual apathy, but the former may be a symptom for the latter deadly disease. Run from it vigorously.
In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus instructed His disciples to “watch and pray that [they] may not enter into temptation” (Matthew 26:41). You also should keep watch and listen for God’s voice in the seemingly mundane events of an average day. Reach out to your peers, talk with them and empathize with their unique circumstances. Pray to God that He may break open the prison in your head to show you men and women as He sees them, and to see the world as it really is. There is an oasis prepared there in the desert for you, hidden with His glory.
Never let your mind conform to the ways of this world, nor let it passively float on undercurrents of contradicting opinion. Question everything you hear and see. Look beneath the ‘how’ and into the ‘why,’ and seek purpose in all things. Don’t be impatient with hidden glories you cannot yet understand, but search for them hopefully and with fervor. Open your eyes and your ears and I am convinced you will never cease to be amazed.