Lessons & Carols (PC: Bruce Jeffrey)

It’s hard to believe that December is here, but then again, I probably say that every year. There are some weeks during the school year where time seems to stand still, and then the next thing you know you blink and the year is almost over. Someone once said to me when I was a much younger mom that when you’re raising small children, the days seem to last forever, but the months and years just seem to fly by. Time is kind of funny like that.

The four weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas are definitely not funny. In fact, they can be pretty stressful for high school seniors (and college counselors). For those who have applied early, the essays are done, the rec letters written, and the test scores sent in. The applications have all been submitted. The waiting begins. All that remains is the waiting.

I’ve been thinking about the whole concept of waiting. It occurred to me that we spend a lot of our lives actually waiting. In fact, this past week alone, I spent a lot of time waiting…in the really long line at the grocery, around the block at the hole-in-the-wall bakery to get my favorite rainbow bar cookies, in traffic to visit family over the holidays. And I’m not the only person doing a lot of waiting. The average American will spend five years waiting in lines and queues with roughly six months of that waiting at traffic lights.

The time between these two holidays are not just filled with waiting, but stress as well, because in four weeks, two-thirds of our senior class will receive decisions from colleges they have applied to. In the meantime, there’s the waiting.

Is there a way to wait well? The answer to this question is a resounding yes. In fact, learning to wait well is one of the most important things we can learn to do. If we’re going to be doing a lot of it, why not learn to do it better? What’s the key to waiting well?

In this situation, the first thing I’d like to offer is some practical advice:

  • Keep up with your schoolwork. Try to live life as usual.
  • Don’t check your email obsessively. The decision from the college will come when it says it will come. Institutions tend to keep their word.
  • Don’t keep talking about your early decision college. It will only make you that much more anxious and it will drive the people around you crazy.
  • Remember that not everything about your life hinges on this decision.

But aside from practical advice, what else can we do to become people who learn to wait well? Clues to waiting well can be found in what we celebrate during these two holidays: thanksgiving and hope. If we can embrace the values of these two holidays during the time that we wait, the waiting will be a lot better.

Being thankful has a lot of benefits. Some of them surprised me; all of them challenged me. It’s no surprise to learn that people who are thankful are generally happier. Scientists have actually found that as people have thoughts of gratitude, feelings of pleasure increase in the brain. Not only this, but areas of the brain that regulate stress are also stimulated. What does this mean? If you are filled with gratitude, you will be happier and better able to manage stress.

How does this happen? It actually makes a lot of sense when you think about it:

  • If you are more aware of what is good in your life, it will make you feel good.
  • When you are thankful for what you have, you’re a lot less likely to compare yourself to others. Comparison robs us of happiness and joy.

People who are more thankful are also more resilient. Gratitude increases mental strength. Research has shown gratitude not only reduces stress, but it may also play a major role in overcoming trauma. A 2003 study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology found that gratitude was a major contributor to resilience after the attacks on September 11. Recognizing all the things you have to be thankful for, even during what feels like a challenging time in your life, builds resilience.

Inevitably, not every student will get into his/her first choice of school. Each year, there is elation and disappointment. Learning to be thankful allows each one of us to handle outcomes when they don’t turn out the way we thought they would. When we don’t get into that dream school, we need to take a step back and remember all that we have been given. We need to continue to remember that we have so much to be thankful for – sometimes even the disappointments. It’s the hard things that grow emotional muscles and make us stronger. And as cliche as it sounds, when God closes a door, He does open a window. Sometimes the disappointments are the very thing God uses to redirect us to where He wants us to be.

So as we wait in anticipation, I hope that we take the time to reflect on how much we have to be thankful for – thankful for how our paths have brought us to this school and hopeful to see where God will lead each of us next. God is good and has been faithful to us and will continue to be faithful no matter where we end up. So within every “yes” and “no” from a college are opportunities – if we will be open to them.  Thanksgiving gives us the eyes to see beyond what is in front of us or simply what we feel. It gives us what we need to step into that next place: thanksgiving and remembrance is the catalyst to hope.


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