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Thursday, May 30, 2013


The word orient comes from the word East and in 1727 (see online etymology dictionary) it emerged as a word which means "to face east so as to have your bearings and be able to set your course." The sun rises in the east so it is a good way to start your day oriented. 

Orientation is most commonly used to identify beginning a new school year (or job). We spent Monday-Wednesday traveling back and forth to the University of Alabama with an orientation sandwiched in between. My daughter is one of a bevy of National Merit Scholars who will be new students at Alabama this fall. While famous for their football team they have made a huge commitment to drawing excellent students. I was impressed by the kids I saw and met.

I woke early this morning and my mind immediately was in a reflection on the parallels between orientation and life. Here are some reflections on what hit me.

Choices matter, but do not panic. Our decisions certainly set us on a path. Some choices can never be taken back. There are few pure 'do-overs' and we can miss opportunities which will never come around again. Sometimes we lose valuable time which cannot be recouped. Heading in a direction precludes some other directions. Even so, there is usually time to make changes and there is no need to simply limit ourselves for fear of starting over. Declaring one's Major is not a life commitment. You can get a BA in history and end up in social work or a priest (like me!). Degrees are not handcuffs. However, what one chooses does have impact. I had three declared majors. I was an acounting major, switched to English in seminary (because I was a sophomore with 12 hours in English) then changed to History. Which leads to a related insight....

I enterred seminary with a year and a half of college credit. My options were to go two years and cram 18 hours each semester or go three years. I chose the latter which made all the difference in my friendships. However, I chose English because it looked "easier." I only needed 16 hours in three years (the problem was I did not like English that much). Easier is a bad word in making college choices. So often people look for an easier way. This is true in life as well. How many of us embrace what looks like an easier way? Now I am not advocating harder for the sake of being harder (although I have been told that is what I do). I think efficiency matters and it makes sense to not waste time and effort. However, choices should not be based on easy/hard; they should flow out of what is best. If the best is harder, then go hard....

Choosing the right thing and accepting the challenges (including 'harder') which go along with that are best in the long run. I have counselled my kids to get degrees in areas which are harder (math, science, techonolgy), but which fit their interests and skills. It has to match up or else it is torture. What each of us does for a living would be very hard for someone without the desire and aptitude. (And I remind them the fun stuff makes a nice Minor!)

In life we need to orient to our goals. What is my purpose? Why am I here? What choices will make my life what it can be and should be? Have I acted with courage and integrity in my choices? Am I doing what is best or settling for what is easiest? Am I wasting time and energy on hard stuff which is not leading me to my destination?  Do I actually project the future (four year plan) and beyond (ultimate goal) and make choices which lead me to the goal.?
If our life in Christ is our purpose for being, then what should we be "majoring in"? And in light of that major (discipleship) what classes should we opt to take (Bible, prayer, community living)? Do we go through the motions or are we learning and growing? Do we "miss" class and try to cram for tests to get a passing grade or do we passionately embrace the opportunity for deep life offered though Jesus?

Many people never actually reflect on their choices and end up living an "accidental" life. I always wanted a PhD but never got one. It was a wish. I sort of wanted to teach at a college some day. Probably will not happen. I wanted other things more (family and providing for family). I put it off for the future (and the new baby means the future will look like the past) and it will not happen now. I guess I could win the lottery, but that is not likely (and I do not buy tickets). However, in the grand scheme, I study and learn constantly and that means I am growing, even if I do not have a degree to prove it. So my goal (being a faithful pastor) is met by a non-academic plan. That is fine, too. And never teaching in college is not a tragedy in my case.

Orientation is always possible. There are always new "jobs" (=things to do) and new "classes" (=things to learn). Sitting down and making the choices is always available to us. We can decide to grow in Christ and take on a discipline (disciple = student) of prayer, work and study. We can map out the next few years and get going. And it doesn't matter if we are the other side of 40 or not. Why let the 18 year olds have all the fun and excitement?

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