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Facing a New School Year with Zeal and Courage

Facing a New School Year with Zeal and Courage

Back to school. Some of you are probably already sick of that expression. Since midsummer you’ve been bombarded with advertising assuring you that every back-to-school worry can be handled with a credit card. Buy the right notebooks, the right clothes, and the right electronics, and your kid is good to go.

For some people it comes as a kind of relief. Summers are difficult to organize, as your child suddenly has a lot of free time that needs to be filled…and you have none. For other people, there’s a certain nostalgia that sets in, as you realize that back to school means your child will never again be in whatever grade it was they left behind.

We’re all so busy thinking about how this affects us, though, that we forget sometimes how it affects them. And what can help remembering their point of view is thinking about our own half-buried, half-remembered Septembers.

I love September. I love the crispness in the air after the heat of August. I love the last bits of summer that cling to September, the few precious days before you can’t swim outside anymore and restaurants close and the sunscreen is put away. But most of all, I love September because it’s back to school.

I always loved going back to school.

There is something magical about a whole new school year stretching out in front of you, sparkling with promise and mystery, pristine and unknown: anything could happen in that new year. New books; I couldn’t wait to look through the new books, to see what I was going to learn, what doors were opening to me. (Okay, I’ll confess, I never looked at my math book with anything but resignation sometimes bordering on terror, but that’s a story for another time.) Whatever problems I’d had the past year were wiped clean: this was time to do it all better.

What is this year’s back-to-school like for your kids? Do they look forward to learning new things? Or are you dragging them, kicking and screaming, out of the freedoms of summer? Having a conversation about what back-to-school means to them might be helpful in helping them (and you!) navigate this transitional time.

Transitional times are always tricky, aren’t they? I think a lot about what Jesus’ disciples went through after the crucifixion. Talk about a time of transition! St. John’s Gospel records three occasions where the Risen Lord appeared to his apostles. In Chapter 20, Jesus appears to them in a closed room, possibly the upper room in Jerusalem, apparently entering through a locked and closed door. The first time, on that first night, St. Thomas was absent; the second, a week later, Jesus came to that same room, this time with St. Thomas present as well. In these first two appearances, Jesus gave them his peace, told them to not be afraid, and told them to be prepared to preach the good news with zeal and courage.

In Chapter 21, he appears to seven of the apostles along the shore of the Sea of Tiberias. And in this brief appearance, he speaks to them both literally and with rich symbolism to prepare them–and us–for the life he’s called us to live.

What must they have been thinking? This was changing everything for them. The year and years ahead of them were suddenly filled with purpose. Their new venture was blessed and consecrated. Their future would never be the same.

Your child might not be in the same kind of earth-shaking transition as the one that Jesus’ disciples went through, but a new life is in fact in front of him or her. A new year, new opportunities to learn how to live with others, how to work hard, how to form values. Jesus asked his disciples to move out of this transitional time with grace and face the future with zeal and courage.

Facing a new school year with zeal and courage can only happen if you prepare your child to do it. So along with the new backpack and pens, give your child something else this back-to-school time: the assurance that whatever lies ahead, whether marvels or travails, Jesus is with them.

by Jeannette de Beauvoir