The summer before I left for college 12 hours away, my mom tried to give me all the "life skills" she feared I hadn't mastered.
Separate whites from darks when you do laundry.
Balance your checkbook.
Make long distance phone calls with discretion -- because in those days we paid for that stuff by the minute.
Anticipating the questions the real world was about to throw at me, Mom had lots of last-minute advice. What she didn't save for the last minute was that church on Sunday was more important than getting a jumpstart on homework or the brunch line at the cafeteria.
Everything we had done as a family for the past 17 years revolved around making sure we lived our faith in the slow and busy seasons of life. Any sport we played or part-time job we took was second to practicing our religion. I remember being 16 and feeling slightly embarrassed when I told my boss that I couldn't work until after church on Sundays. However, the priorities this instilled in me were so important for the future. I'm certainly not on a Little League team anymore and that job at the ice cream shop did not become a full-time career. What I do still need is the truth about who I am and what I'm called to that I gained from those Sunday mornings.
A few weeks ago, I had the chance to witness a re-enactment of the "St. Andrew Skirmish," an encounter between the Confederate and Union soldiers that occurred on the Florida panhandle during the Civil War. I occasionally geek out on history and find re-enactments to be pretty cool. I especially enjoy talking to the re-enators. I learn so much more chatting with a historical general polishing his historical revolver outside his historical tent while smoking his historical pipe than I ever would browsing a coffee table book at Barnes and Noble.
While talking with said general, he shared that they didn't just let anyone walk on the "set" of their battle. You had to be a card-carrying member with insurance and a sense of what to do and where to go. Even in a re-enactment -- where revolvers are apparently loaded with grits instead of real bullets -- if you don't know where to stand or what to do, you could get really hurt on those historical bayonets. The re-enactors knew the whole story of the Civil War and knew their place in it. When the battle came, they were ready.
Pat Benatar and Jordin Sparks are right. Love is a battlefield. Life is too. A casual observer like myself couldn't stumble onto the field of the St. Andrew skirmish and expect to stop an invasion (although, historically, the Confederates didn't either. But that's besides the point). I didn't know enough about the story to fight the battle. In the same way, kids need to know their place in the story of their faith before they hit the battlefield that is life. This starts with regular involvement at church, Bible studies and other opportunities for education. It's nourished by family prayer and discussions.
I'll sometimes get a call from parents getting ready to drop their kids off at college, asking me the name of the church closest to campus so they can leave directions next to the detergent and Easy Mac. This is a good idea, but it's helpful to have the first conversation about the importance of spirituality long before packing the car for college.
True childhood and adolescence hold lots of distractions, but these don't go away with adulthood. Leaving home knowing what they believe -- and where to find further clarification -- means students will be prepared for the very real battles that lie ahead.