School’s Open, Drive Safely

Father Joe and Father Ralph pose for a traditional “first day of school” photo.

I had ignored the “back to school” signs in the stores at the end of June, just as I’m ignoring Christmas displays in the stores next week. But as we’re on the cusp of school actually starting again, I’ve been polling the students with the question, “Are you excited that school is starting in a week?”

I get a variety of answers from a glum stare, to rolling of eyes, to a puppy dog-like enthusiasm from some. In the meantime, the parent standing in back of the child gives a slight smile and a nod of the head as if to say, “We are SO ready for junior to go back to school, but we’re not going to express that too much.”

Teachers also have varied reactions. Some are itching to get back in the classroom again, while others are reluctantly counting the earlier sunsets and last walks on the beach.

But like it or not, school has started again and each year starts with a clean notebook (or these days, a cleared tablet). There are hopes and dreads that dance in the minds and stomachs of the students. Some students are having feelings of anxiety that immobilize them and no amount of cajoling or yelling by mom or dad seems to get them past their fears. While some rely on pharmaceuticals to get through this (and that could be either meds for the child or drugs for the parents), I know some families who have had great success with inviting the local clergy to offer a prayer and blessing for their son or daughter for the start of the school year and a little lesson on how to ask for God’s help when the anxiety strikes. Do you know that these prayers are actually answered?

Some children deal with their inner anxieties by putting on the opposite face. They bluster their way through the social order of the bus, the lunchroom and the playground, sometimes exhibiting bullying behavior which gives them a sense of power that shouts out the inner insecurities. And when they see that they have hurt another and when they get in trouble for their words and actions, it often serves to deepen their lack of self esteem. That why cyber bullying become so addictive—the bully cannot see the hurt caused, and often isn’t caught.

Here’s where a child’s prayer life can help too. Whether it is the bullied child encountering scripture such as Psalm 69:18 “Come near and rescue me Lord;redeem me because of my foes,” or the bullying child who needs to know of God’s love for him/her, prayer is that relationship with the one who made us and knows us even better than our parents.

I sometimes fear that in the midst of the whirlwind of family life (job stress, school work, never-ending sports or other extra curricular activities) that the silent partner in each family (the God who is present to them all the time) is forgotten, ignored or simply not experienced. When was the last time your family referenced God other than as an expletive?

Just as the neighborhood signs remind us, “School’s Open, Drive Safely”, may I suggest that the start of school can be a new beginning for the religious dimension of a family’s life? Start saying grace before meals; start the day and/or end the day with prayer. Come to church (bet you didn’t see THAT coming). Read the bible. Acknowledge and seek God’s presence in the midst of the traffic of life. There’ll be no regrets.

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