We are entering one of my most dreaded times: college acceptance season. Each time my phone goes off and I see a high school senior’s name, my stomach clenches and I am afraid to read what the message says. The excitement and heartbreak that comes with the YES or NO from a university feels life-altering. Within seconds, dreams and imagined futures begin to come to fruition or quickly change.
The worst part is, it’s arbitrary. As the news has unfolded this week of wealth and privilege playing the part in some students acceptances to elite institutions it is clearly evident that there are more factors at play in college admissions than what is asked for on an application.
I’m not saying that in a universities-don’t-know-what-they-are-doing way but in the reality that qualified and worthy students are being turned away from schools. It is not because students’ grades are not sufficient or their SAT scores are too low. It’s not their lack of extracurriculars or a horrible recommendation. A friend of mine who works in college admissions has told me how wide and deep the applicant pool is to draw from, and that sometimes it is just luck.
In our culture of smarter, brighter, and better we are achieving at such high rates that the cream at the top is thick. Superb students are rejected from schools and as I comfort them, I can’t help but think ‘who in the world did they pick over this kid?’ I am completely sure that I would not be accepted at my alma mater if I applied today (Go Zags!) so praise God for the timing of my birth.
With the competition steep, students are overscheduled and overworked and parents often wonder if it is worth the fight to get their kids to church. Their child is working their tail off at school and in sports and with every other extra to help them rise up in this pool of super-achievers. Does it really matter if they come to worship once a week (because, let’s be honest, that’s definitely not getting you into college)?
Shouldn’t you let them sleep in if they want to? You can’t MAKE a child believe in God, you took them to church when they were little, you’ll let them find their path just like you did. They say they don’t get much out of it. They don’t really like the other kids. It’s always a fight. You just don’t have the energy for it.
I have heard it all and it’s all true It is hard. Teenagers are hard, and tired, and it appears like they are getting nothing out of church sometimes.
Then there is a moment:
An arbitrary decision by a university.
A cut made by a coach.
A social blow-up that excommunicates them from a group.
A breakup with their first love.
There is a devastating rejection. There is a glaring NO.
And then there is Jesus. Whose only answer is always, without a doubt, to each of us, YES.
“Do not be afraid. For I have bought you and made you free. I have called you by name. You are mine! When you pass through the waters, I will be with you. When you pass through the rivers, they will not flow over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned.” – Isaiah 43:1-2
And that gift of YES is why we push for church. Why the fight matters.
When you think they aren’t paying attention… they are. You know how smart they are, look at all they do! The yes comes from worship, from the surrounding community, from the eucharist, from the liturgy. From the knowledge that no matter what; Jesus is the same and you are already accepted into the community of Christ. The YES of Jesus is the fire that allows us to move through all the noes of life. For some students it’s the big public world of college acceptances. For others it’s the private battles of making their own way on a path that looks different than their peers and still knowing their worth in the world is BIG and REAL and MEANINGFUL.
The gift of YES is also why we need to get our own butts in the pews. The painful noes of life don’t end in high school. There will be failed relationships and deep hurts. There will be miscarriages and diagnosis. There will be loneliness and doubt. There will be layoffs and brutal blunders.
The need for Jesus’ YES is universal and timeless. It’s as important at 16 as it is at 60, and Jesus’ YES is so much louder and sweeter than any NO we will ever hear.