Back to School Reality (by Elder Chris Wu)

Back to school season is generally not a favorite of mine. I remember dreading it as a kid, thinking of all the responsibilities and loss of free time that came with school while regretting how little I got done during the summer (laziness is remarkably unproductive). “Back to reality!” my dad would often quip. It’s an unpleasant feeling even now just reminiscing about it. Today as a parent, I have mixed feelings. We are thankful for a safe learning environment and celebrate God’s grace in our children’s lives as they grow into the next stage of life. We feel blessed by friends and teachers and the school community. But we also can’t help but think about the incoming energy spend and inevitable complications that will come. And changing school years also means a change in the status quo, opening that all-too-familiar door of change anxiety. It’d really just be easier and less stressful if everything stayed the same.

In some ways, I’m really glad that it’s all a phase. Either as a student or as a parent, back to school is only a season – for a season. One day I won’t have to deal with it. But at the same time, I realize that the rhythms of school invite me to reflect on what learning is all about:

Psalm 19:1–2 (ESV)
The heavens declare the glory of God,
and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.
Day to day pours out speech,
and night to night reveals knowledge.

King David announces that God’s brilliance, creativity, goodness, and holiness are endlessly put on display in every facet of creation. Math, literature, science, music: the world around us isn’t some stoic mystery to be solved, but a loud, living broadcast that beckons us to see and enjoy God’s glory at every turn. That invites us to be constant learners and endlessly curious in response. Going to school, going to work, starting a new book, learning a new skill, taking on a project, training to face a new challenge…these all are not ends in themselves. I don’t learn to learn. I don’t work to work. I learn and I work as a means to align my heart, my whole self, with the true Reality of the universe. To see what’s Real. I enjoy it and look forward to it because, in some way, I’m about to discover anew how the heavens are declaring the glory of God.

Maybe if I told my 15 year-old self that truth, I still wouldn’t have appreciated school. Too often I don’t appreciate it now. But I’m learning to pray for the truth of Psalm 19 to overshadow all that my kids and I do. Instead of the pressure of progress and production, David points me to worship and rest. Instead of the frustration of a class or project that I don’t understand, the Holy Spirit opens my eyes to how big, mighty, and utterly ingenious God is. I don’t have to go back to school anymore. But I welcome being called back to reality.

By His Grace,
Chris Wu