Anxiety? Confusion? Anticipation? Many words could be used to express what both students and parents experience as another school year approaches. Some moms and dads will be watching their child leave home for the first time. Many will be caught up in the avalanche of needed school supplies. Students may be nervous—maybe going to a new school, wondering if friendships have survived the summer, or if new kids will like them. Teachers put final touches on schoolyear plans and prepare for the daily work of doing their best for the children entrusted to their care. There are many burdens, but also anticipations of joy, as a new school year begins.
One thought that I believe is common this year: “please be better than last year” (2020). Young children being forced to wear masks; teachers guarded by plexiglass shields (“could you speak up, please, I can’t hear you.”); many students in “virtual” classrooms, rarely seeing friends or teachers in real time or real locations; parents trying to figure out and keep up with “Zoom” meeting times and classwork—these were the experiences of millions of students, parents, and teachers.
Many children will be in normal classrooms this fall, God willing, for the first time in a year and a half. For a child going into 3rd grade, that means 50% of their education so far in their young lives has been in the strangeness of virtual “reality.” Students entering college as freshmen will not have had normal classes since the middle of their junior years. The list could go on and on.
A key word to consider this fall as “back to school” dominates so many lives is this: patience. Patience is always a great gift to use in our lives with others. But this fall brings a greater need for it. There is much frustration. Our children are frustrated with the lack of structure: classes messed up, sports and arts re-scheduled or cancelled. Parents are frustrated with schools, government. Teachers are frustrated with the imposition of mandates not of their choosing. Frustration easily leads to anger. Therefore: patience.
It is easier said than done. Patience grows from understanding ourselves through God showing us our human condition in His Word and what He has done about it.
We are sinners. We fail as parents, as children and students, as teachers. Believing that this is indeed true about ourselves is a fundamental starting point for us. It is not an excuse for bad behavior. It is learning to confess our sin, to admit that we cannot do what we should.
God does not leave us to struggle alone in our sin. “For [God] made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Corinthians 5:21 NKJ). Jesus Christ took on our sin and gave us His righteousness. What are you now through faith in Jesus? You are His holy ones, His saints. God sees the very righteousness of His Son when He looks at you who believe in His Son. This is the great gift of the gospel, the substitution of Jesus for you.
God forgives your impatience. He forgives your doubts, your anger and frustration. This doesn’t mean we’re suddenly perfectly patient. We still struggle. But we know that God so loves us, parent and child, student and teacher, that He gave His Son—for us.
In the midst of anxiety, of the unknown future of this school year, know that God is with you through it all. He knows you by name, and He does not forget you. Be confident in Him.
Professor Thomas Rank,
Bethany Lutheran College