For high school teens, this time of year brings its own special stress, in particular, the process of scheduling next year’s classes, or the next few years of classes, or even choosing a college and career path for after graduation. The menu of options can be overwhelming. Honors classes or Advanced Placement classes? College Plus credits, Post-Secondary Credits or the Career Center? What college? What’s my Major in college? The choices are endless, like cereal in the grocery store aisle.
To make matters worse, there seems to be a marked increase in the pressure from advisers to have students select a career path sooner than ever before. College is expensive, no doubt. So why not pick a career path in 10th grade and save a bunch of money on credits before college? The logic behind this shift seems obvious and does have its benefits. But as a high school teacher and parent of a teenager, I believe we need to return to some balance in this area.
Presenting educational options to our young people is terrific, but how we present these options can unintentionally become negative. Yes, these are important decisions. No, these are not “do-or-die” decisions. Yes, finding a career path and pursuing it with excellence is great. No, you do not have to know, at 16 years of age, if you want to be a doctor for the rest of your life. It really is OK to just decide your next step. This is a narrative rarely heard anymore.
Most mornings in the winter, I start a fire in our wood-burning fireplace. One thing I have learned about starting a fire — you have to be gentle with it and give it time to grow. It doesn’t work to stuff the firebox full of kindling and large wood, hoping to get a raging fire going in ten minutes. I start off small, letting some thin wood catch fire, then I add medium pieces of wood and let it heat up some more. Finally, after the coals are red-hot in the base of the firebox, I add a log or two. All during this process, I control the airflow into the firebox by adjusting the glass doors to allow some oxygen to fuel the fire without blowing it out. This results in a well-established fire that will continue to heat our home all day.
The Apostle Paul uses a similar picture when he instructs Timothy to “fan into flame the gift of God which is in you…” (II Tim. 1:6). To fan means “to blow or to breathe upon, to stir up to activity” (www.merrium-webster.com). This is not describing hurricane-force winds, a blow torch, or a dousing of gasoline to get that fire raging hot fast. Rather, this describes a gentle, controlled stirring that encourages more activity, more heat, more purposeful action. This brings long-lasting results, both when building a fire and when building a soul, a person – especially a young person with an entire future waiting for them.
Teacher, guidance counselor, parents – and I include myself: Could we do a little more fanning and a little less dousing? Could we put away the blow torch and instead gently stir up their interests, gifts and heart desires? Maybe if we give them a little more time to discover the fire in their hearts, that fire won’t die so quickly and they will have a lifetime to learn and grow instead of burning out at an early adult age. Let’s practice the fine art of fanning – I think the results will be pretty amazing!