We took our oldest son to the first day of middle school this morning. In the midst of the heavy doses of cologne, the blur of girl-packs racing to and fro I could only look at my oldest and his wide eyes, neither of us quite ready for this sudden plunge into a new world.
But looking at all of those other kids I began to realize that some of them knew they weren’t ready either. They shared my son’s same wide eyes. Others who seemed so confident with their friends weren’t much farther along, in reality they simply didn’t realize they weren’t ready yet.
As much as my stomach is turning in knots waiting for him to come home with (prayerfully) a good report, I am also reminded that it is these shocking, sometimes terrifying reminders of a seemingly foreign world that so often serve to constitute our personhood, our lives. While scary, I have to admit I am glad he knows he’s not ready, that he knows he will have to depend on some strangers to get through the day.
Maybe this is a better place than the delusion of self-sufficiency, independence, a wicked familiarity with the world that allows us to believe we do not need those who occupy it. I think this is perhaps why middle school is one of the best metaphors for our Christian life. So often we think of our life as simply a space of survival and this is a bad thing. But is it so bad to know we don’t know?
I am not sure if I was ever more scared than going to middle school and I am not sure I ever really got used to it. I was a stranger in a foreign land. This is middle school. This is the Christian life. Of course, this life (prayerfully) doesn’t remain like it did on the first day, lonely, wide-eyed, and hoping for someone to talk to. Hopefully, we get to share the strangeness with others, but I don’t think it ever loses its foreigness.
I doubt my son will make such grand connections upon the conclusion of his first day. He will be happy if he opened his locker the first time and managed to not get lost. And that is enough. I don’t have the heart to tell him his whole life should look like this. Hopefully, he will find some friends, hopefully he will find solace in the band Christian brothers and sisters he sees at church and through these people he will slowly come to see that there is a loving God in the midst of this strange land with whom he can share his life and serve even when he feels alone.
Middle school is not fun, but it is instructive. But more importantly its name, middle, is imbued with hope because it is only a series moments in a long and wonderful story.