I’m a high school educator. It’s becoming the season of school year where seniors are giddy and nervous about the prospect of being forever done with dress codes and strict 35 minute lunches. Their mind has taken an early summer break and the only real assignment left for them is finding the best post graduation night party.
At some point a common phrase will be spoken to these young adults. From a parent or teacher or even their class president during a formulaic grad speech. Something along the lines of:
“It doesn’t get any better than this, these are the best days of your life.”
I’m afraid these are devastating words for many impressionable young ladies and lads. For me, far from evoking gratefulness for the high school experience, these words evoked something closer to despair.
I was moderately athletic and popular in high school, not by any means at the bottom rung of the contrived social ladder. I had some solid teachers and coaches I still respect to this day. I was the captain of the football team and Fellowship of Christian Athlete president my senior year.
But by and large for me: I hated high school.
And it had very little to do with administrators or teachers or students or bullying or homework or any extra curricular activity or lack thereof. I hated high school because I didn’t really know who I was in high school. Now I’m not speaking of some psycho babble interpretation of self actualization and awareness.
For a large portion of my high school years I felt nothing but unhealthy tension between:
- being a church youth group Sunday morning leader yet still recovering from the drinking games of the previous night.
- being a virgin yet still peacocking like an alpha dog to impress my athletic peers.
- being an FCA president yet still terrified to share my faith with my best friend.
- being a prominent student athlete yet becoming a serial skipper of core classes and football workouts.
If these were the best days of my life, then the rest of my life would…be…hopelessly lackadaisical at best.
The high school scene was awkward and hormonal and pretentious for me. And I had little enjoyment playing the games I felt I needed to play to socially survive. This was more than cognitive dissonance. I didn’t see my blatant hypocrisy until the summer before my senior year, and even then, I didn’t have the tools to repair the image I had worked to tear into two different directions.
My life has only gotten better since high school graduation:
I became an honor student.
I became a high school educator (of all things).
I became a coach who enjoys encouraging the slackers.
I became a better church member and minister sans the hangover.
I stopped caring as much for the approval of people. And even though I still struggle to share my faith to those closest to me, I have experienced a fierce grace in Christ that is always shaking me out of my doldrums. My hypocrisy, though still old habit, isn’t my enveloping identity anymore.
My most important identities on earth: I became a husband of a precious passionate woman, and the father of two perfectly healthy happy boys.
So let me speak to my fellow young slackers who are a bit confused, discontent, and even blatantly hypocritical: It only gets better from here. Life gets better. Richer. Fuller. The best days of your life are laid out before you. Right through the unseen puddles and wrong turns and strange forests and shared sunsets.
There is nothing more sad in life than a lonely middle-aged alcoholic who peaked out at senior prom. That is not our lot. In Christ it can only get better. The peak is always in front of us, and we’re always reaching new heights of His grace.
Sure, look back on your past with gratefulness. But look forward with eager assurance that you’re becoming (and will become) someone better than what you once were.