“Will this look good on my college resume?”
“What courses should I take to get into the college of my choice?”
“What Division One coaches will be at this showcase event?”
In schools today, there is an increasing focus on the destination of college, and it is not only juniors and seniors. Now, even fifth and sixth graders are talking about college and graduate school. My own seventh graders talk about going to either Columbia or Harvard or Michigan or UNC. In addition, Lower School admissions officers recount stories of prospective parents of pre-kindergarten students who ask about a school’s college profile! The causes of this pressure are legion: anxious parents, competition for college admittance, the Internet, and the high cost of advanced education, to name a few. With so much energy focused on the next chapter, there is a loss in the gifts of the present. We, like our students, often rush toward the future.
I believe one antidote is for us to help model the spiritual practice of abiding in the present moment. As our former Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, wrote “The hardest thing in the world is to be where we are.”*
A prayer I have shared with students and parents Teilhard de Chardin’s prayer which says in part,
Above all, trust in the slow work of God. We are quite naturally impatient in everything to reach the end without delay…. Your ideas mature gradually—let them grow, Let them shape themselves, without undue haste.
I am also reminded of God’s answer to Moses when Moses wondered how he would force Pharaoh to “Let my people go.” God said, “I will be with you.” There is also the promise of Jesus to his disciples as he said farewell, “I will be with you, to the end of the age.” We too, can remind students by our presence and by our wisdom that there are tremendous gifts in the present moment.
I believe is that our Episcopal schools are uniquely situated to reduce the anxiety and stress of our students and their families through our chapel programs, our advisory programs and our focus on caring for the mind, body, and spirit of all of our students. I believe that we have the opportunity to help students to embrace the present moment, and even embrace the uncomfortable and uneasy aspects of being “in the middle” of the journey to adulthood. We reassure our students that “we are with them” while they move through these times of anxiety and fear, and can offer stories and personal parables of the good news that things will work out for them.
What are the ways that your school helps students to embrace the gifts of the present moment?
Trust in the Slow Work of God
Above all, trust in the slow work of God.
We are quite naturally impatient in everything to reach the end without delay.
We should like to skip the intermediate stages.
We are impatient of being on the way to something unknown, something new.
And yet it is the law of all progress that it is made by passing through some stages of instability—and that it may take a very long time.
And so I think it is with you.
Your ideas mature gradually–let them grow,
Let them shape themselves, without undue haste.
Don’t try to force them on,
as though you could be today what time
(that is to say, grace and circumstances acting on your own good will)
will make of you tomorrow.
Only God could say what this new spirit gradually forming within you will be.
Give our Lord the benefit of believing that his hand is leading you,
and accept the anxiety of feeling yourself in suspense and incomplete.
—Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, SJ
*Williams, Rowan. Christ on Trial: How the Gospel Unsettles Our Judgement (2000). Eerdmans, Cambridge, UK, 89.
The Rev. Peter M. Carey is Chaplain at Berkeley Preparatory School, Tampa, Florida, an Episcopal school serving grades P–12. He may be reached at email@example.com.