A new semester started today at Concordia University. Students are roaming the campus with the stunned look of disbelief on their faces. I kept my class short — about twenty-five minutes. I introduced myself, handed out my syllabus, got an introductory feel for who is in my class, then excused them to go sort out their new realities. Some of those students said they had had four classes today! Four classes equals four syllabi and innumerable deadlines and assignments to consider.
The first day often serves as a warning — beware! I am going to expect a lot of you! In fact, I informed my students that we will have our first quiz and our first in-class writing response on Wednesday. We aren’t wasting any time. We are jumping in with both feet. By this time next week they will have already read Sandra Cisneros, Jamaica Kincaid, Kate Chopin, Edgar Allan Poe, and Nathaniel Hawthorne! They will have already got in the habit of identifying author, time period, genre, and literary devices, and they will be taking some stabs at author’s intent and strategy.
Or they won’t have gotten in the habit…in that case, they might already be overwhelmed by this time next week. In fact, many of them were overwhelmed already today. They don’t know how they are going to pay for their books. They are on academic probation because they didn’t get in the swing of things last semester, and they are worried that this is the first day of a repeat performance.
And those are just the school-related worries. When I stood in front of twenty-eight students today, I am sure I did not fully grasp the combined weight of concern that they dragged in with them — family issues, friendship conflicts, relationship woes, health concerns, and any number of internal conflicts. And here I am, ever the jokester, making light of all the additional responsibility I am heaping on top of them.
Earlier today, way before my class, I attended the first chapel service of the semester. As per usual I don’t remember all of what was said, but I do remember an admonition that Pastor Ryan Peterson gave to the students. He said, “I want to challenge you to attend chapel everyday…to engage with this community…to connect with the Word of God…because there will never be a better use of your time than that.”
I am praying right now that the students heard that message, not because it’s a good thing to do to go to church. Not because anyone will be taking attendance. Not because someone is going to judge them if they don’t go to chapel. No. I am praying that they will hear his words of love — the invitation to enjoy the privilege of engaging with community and to feel the strength that comes from the Word of God.
Why? Because it will keep things in perspective. The overwhelming tide of assignments, finances, and responsibilities can make us think that we are drowning. When we believe we are drowning, we flail about, we yell for help, we try to swim for the shore, and we exhaust ourselves with all that trying. But the Truth is that we are not indeed drowning. Yes, it can get a bit stormy and bleak. In fact it can get downright scary. And, if you’re going it alone, it’s really easy to forget that you are sitting in the palm of His hand.
Have no fear, little flock, for your Father has happily given you His Kingdom.
Luke 12: 32