In hopes of encouraging you on your own journey, below are five big life lessons that were seared into my brain thanks to the trial and blessing that was high school.
by Bethany Russell
Adults often warn those younger that high school is hard. However, when I was in the thick of it, there was much more to high school than it simply being hard. The experience was multifaceted, having both good and bad elements. I admit that it was pretty intense juggling all those courses, social elements, and extracurriculars, but in hindsight, I learned a significant amount during this season of life. For that, I am grateful. (On another positive note, my current adventure of early adulthood has been comparatively much easier!)
In hopes of encouraging you on your own journey, below are five big life lessons that were seared into my brain thanks to the trial and blessing that was high school:
Make your faith your own.
You want to be your own person? Great – take the initiative. If you were raised in a Christian home, it is important to recognize that at some point, whether or not it’s in high school, you will likely be confronted by peers, friends, and others for being a Christian simply because your parents were “religious” or because you grew up in a “religious” region. At first, this may seem like a natural explanation; however, as someone who has substantial familiarity with Christian contexts, I attest that I’ve only seen a Christian background result in three outcomes because it forces a decision to: a) leave Christianity, b) be lukewarm in faith, or c) be richly authentic. Please don’t settle for cultural Christianity. God is so much bigger than a shallow, societal construct. Rather, allow yourself the liberty to pursue truth and be honest. Now’s the time to find a reason to follow Christ beyond just your parents or community norm and, as a result, you will also have a ready reason for your own faith (1 Peter 3:15). God is not intimidated by your questions or your uncertainties. Seek Him out and research reputable sources. Afterall, high school is primetime for asking those difficult questions. Peers are great and vital for fellowship, but do not dismiss the experience, intelligence, and counsel of someone who is older, wiser, and of honorable standing. Furthermore, make an effort to spend time with God every day, even if it’s with a 5-minute devotional or a sermon podcast. Talk to Him. He’s there for you. God cares about your classes, relationships, homework struggles, anxieties, goals, and everything in between. He understands how you feel and what you need.
Respect goes a long way, especially in this day and age. In high schools, particularly those that are public, there will be topics taught and things that happen which are not of a Christian worldview. Have discernment about if and when you should speak up. Maybe a history textbook mentions something inaccurate about Christianity or maybe your teacher shows a movie to the class that makes you feel uncomfortable. When you are convicted that you should make a stand, be careful not to do so in an arrogant or abrasive manner but instead in a way that is gentle and sensitive. Not everyone believes what you hold to be true, so have compassion while remaining solid in the faith. Let us remember that “everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard. Yet God, in his grace, freely makes us right in his sight. He did this through Christ Jesus when he freed us from the penalty for our sins” (Romans 3:23-24 NLT). The only difference between us and those unsaved is Jesus Christ. He changes everything, and we all need His perfect sacrifice on our behalf.
Don’t try dumb stuff. It robs freedom.
Here’s something people don’t tell you when offering drugs, sex, and other sketchy stuff: it robs your freedom. I’m not really referring to the freedom of trust with parents and teachers (although this is also at stake), so I’m going to be straightforward here. I cannot emphasize enough how free I am financially, mentally, physically, and spiritually simply because I didn’t take part in or get addicted to things like drugs, drunken parties, smoking, porn, or sex in high school. Moreover, this freedom has refined my personal talents, protected my dreams, and kept me focused on dealing with my own temptations, sins, and struggles that are already challenging enough without the extra layer of addiction. Will you be seen as “sheltered” or “rude” if you don’t participate in “adult” activities? I assure you that no amount of criticism will come close to the high cost of submission. I do not share this to shame anyone who has experienced these things, but I am imploring that if you haven’t started, save yourself the grief. And if you have started, know that there is hope and joy in seeking freedom. God dearly loves us, His children, no matter what, and because of this He calls us “to live in freedom” (Galatians 5:13 NLT).
Forgive others and forgive yourself.
One of the toughest things about high school is that you and your peers (as well as teachers and faculty) will make mistakes. This is, of course, a natural part of being human, but high school is distinctive for being a time of intensive self-searching, and as young adults, we don’t always foresee or fully understand the consequences of our behaviors. People get hurt. You might say something the wrong way or react unkindly to someone else. Grudges crop up. Gossip spreads. Guilt, tears, and anger can make day-to-day life absolutely miserable. Obviously, different problems require different resolutions, but the main theme is consistent: forgiveness. As Christians, we recall that “the Lord forgave” us, so we “must forgive others” (Colossians 3:13 NLT). If something is your fault, apologize and do your best to make things right. If it’s theirs, forgive them whether or not they apologize and move forward in love and wisdom according to the nature of the issue. Getting sage advice from others has done much to help me address difficult situations, as has relinquishing the entire matter, including what I can and can’t control, to God.
Remember, high school doesn’t last forever.
The surreal thing about high school is that it feels like an eternity until it suddenly isn’t. If you’ve ever gone to a summer camp, you’ve probably felt the sensation that camp is going to stretch on forever until it abruptly ends. In high school, whatever social hierarchy there is eventually dissolves as members of the student body head off in different directions, whether it be for jobs, parenthood, college, the military, and other prospects. The experience itself is very strange because the normal routine that you’ve had for years transforms into an entirely new chapter of life and is never the same again. With this in mind, live confidently in the recognition that high school is not our eternal home. God has glorious things in store, both in this life and beyond. Such a far-reaching perspective sustains us with courage, endurance, and joy for the road ahead, since we can be certain that despite whatever life throws at us, we will ultimately have a happy ending.