Well, here we go again.
Summer is fading away like the flowers in my garden. The nights are drawing in and the mornings are full of that exciting, back-to-school chill. The exam results finally arrived and my youngest is excitedly preparing for his next adventure.
And so once again the dining room is a collection point for items on the university list. I have gathered together frying pans and towels and cleaning wipes and bottles of vitamin C to compensate for the inevitable junk-food binging.
And now I feel some last-minute panic as I try to cram in important information like the recipe for my chilli or how to avoid catching fresher flu (the key is to regularly wipe door handles with anti-bacterial wipes).
But I needn’t sweat the small stuff really. Yes, my son will shrink some sweaters and burn dinners in the first term. He’ll probably put off doing wash until he has no clean underwear or socks. He will stay up too late and flunk a test or two, lose important items and spend way too much money on pizza. But these are minor life lessons, nothing to worry about really.
It’s the bigger stuff that matters.
And the big stuff isn’t really crammable. These are the things that have to be modelled. They have to be taught life-to-life, little by little, during dinner conversations and family vacations and school runs. I can’t just put them on a tick-list or tuck them in his suitcase.
So with my son’s permission, here are the things that I hope he has started to learn but that I want him to keep in mind as he sets out into the foothills of adulthood. These are the things that really matter.
In a world that highly values image, be the one with character. Character is a hard-won and often neglected quality and yet it determines so much of the kind of life you will live. People who keep their word, follow through with commitments and stand up for what is right are hard to find. Faithfulness doesn’t sell magazines but it will make you a successful spouse and friend. So do the right thing even when it is hard or costly or unpopular. Be honest about your failures and aware of your shortcomings. Decide that before popularity, success or status; goodness is what you will strive for.
And live generously. Be generous with your money and your words and your time. Remember birthdays. Be the first to say sorry and the last to complain. Think the best of people. Give second chances even when you have been let down. Treat others kindly when no one is looking. Tip well. Include outsiders; notice the lonely. If help is needed, volunteer. Share what you have. In every situation that you find yourself, be the solution, not the problem.
And then be brave enough to face your ‘stuff’. Don’t blame other people when you misbehave; take responsibility and make it right. Acknowledge your mistakes. Recognize patterns of behaviour that are destructive and then prayerfully take them to Jesus. Never, ever be afraid to ask for help or advice or counselling or prayer. Do whatever it takes to be the best version of yourself.
And finally, treat your faith like it is the most valuable thing you have. Don’t ever neglect it or take it for granted. Work through any questions and doubts. Hang out with people who love God more than you do. Decide that being at church on Sunday is non-negotiable; you need your church family and they need you. Treat the Bible as a treasure. Pray like God is really listening, because He is. Don’t ever forget what Jesus has done for you and saved you from and who you would be without Him.
There are things that matter and things that really don’t. Know which is which. Know that you are loved by your family and by Jesus and that your life has value beyond exams and degrees and careers. You are who God says you are, His precious child, and as you pack up for your new adventure that is the most important thing to take with you.