See You at the Pole: A Benediction

see you at the pole

You are beautiful in the early morning sunlight, and the sight of you all there, circling around the flagpole makes me want to cry in the best way possible.

Your backpacks are slung in the dew-tinged grass. Your hair hangs long down your backs. You are in sweatshirts. Blue jeans. Boots and gym shoes and all manner of accessories. You are young and beautiful, and you are gathered here, praying.

I want to write a story for this photo. In it, you are strangers, taking each other in. The fiction I am writing for you has to do with community and kindness, with the crossing-over of lunch-table lines for good and taking care of one another. It’s a love story, a comedy, a sappy Kirk Cameron movie with a happy ending – I know – but I want this to be about more than one day, one moment, one brave prayer in the front of your school.

I can’t help it: I think my heart is still half-hoping for the things it wanted 15 years ago when I stood there at the pole myself, waiting.

*

Let me tell you something: you are brave.

You came to the flagpole for a number of reasons, but somewhere in that mix of motives, there’s a part of you that believes that prayer matters. That standing here in the morning light might mean something for your school.

But the thing about bravery – real bravery – is that it’s not a one-day-a-year kind of thing. It’s less often about standing up for your faith than it is about sitting down. It’s about sitting next to the kid on the bus that no one talks to, to the girl you don’t know, to the person who looks like she’s had a rough day.

It’s about sitting down not to be some kind of hero or to prove something. It’s sitting down because each person matters deeply to God, and it is brave to let them matter to you too.

The swirly feelings you had yesterday morning, if they were there at all, will fade fast. And even though I’d write you a Hallmark-movie if I could, the truth is, this is all hard. Junior high. High school. These are the years when you’re trying to figure out who you are, and everyone else seems like they already know. You are an odd-shaped puzzle piece, lost in the mix. You’re not sure where you fit in the whole scheme of things; you’re not even sure what picture it is that you’re supposed to be part of.

If I could give you a benediction as you walk away from the flagpole this year, I would tell you this: you are enough.

I’d tell you that being a Christian is not about wearing a t-shirt or standing in the right spot on the right day of the year. It’s about believing this small truth: that God’s love makes you enough. It means that no matter how you fit or don’t fit, no matter what you look like or wear or where you sit on the bus or at lunch or who your family is – you are enough. Your worth cannot be calculated in Facebook friends or text messages or party invitations or silence. You matter infinitely, completely, unfailingly.

And I want to tell you that standing up for your faith matters, but that, most of the time, it’s not about standing apart from other people. It’s about standing next to them, with them, arm in arm.

I spent so much time in junior high and high school standing up, talking loud, trying to explain why I believed in God that I never took the time to sit down and listen. I mustered up the courage to defend Creation and to condemn abortion, but I never could summon the strength to sit down at a different lunch table. To introduce myself or to ask questions or to really listen.

I never let my brave Hello preach the beautiful message that we are, all of us, Beloved. That Love makes us enough. And I think it’s because I never really understood it myself.

*

Listen, you are already brave. The pictures you post make me weepy every year, even though I have mixed feelings about my own See You at the Pole memories. You are brave to have a conversation with God in the front of your school on an early September morning.

What I hope for you is the courage to be braver still. To have conversations not just with God, but with people.

I’m not talking about witnessing here. I’m not suggesting tracts or simplified salvation plans. I’m talking about the bravery of everyday love. I’m thinking of small acts of kindness and understanding and moments of seeing others that roll like snowballs into something bigger and wilder and earth-shatteringly beautiful.

I want you to know that you are enough. I hope you walk through your school not with the sure step of the Right Answers but in the courage of Great Love.

As you go through the halls, go through your day, move through these hard, beautiful years, I pray that you will go in peace.

15 thoughts on “See You at the Pole: A Benediction

  1. Addie, this was me in high school, exactly. I organized See You At the Pole one year- so much hope, so much happiness in that! You said it, again: “And I want to tell you that standing up for your faith matters, but most of the time, it’s not about standing apart from other people, It’s about standing next to them, with them, arm in arm.” And that is real bravery. Thank you for this.

  2. You hit it on the head, Addie. The paragraph about Jr Hi & High School–holy smokes! I did papers & gave speeches and had an atheist frenemy, before frenemies were even invented. And I wish I’d have listened more. Thank you for this.

  3. And even as grown adults, we should let your words marinate within our hearts and model this love for the next generation.
    Beautifully written, Addie.

  4. I’m always interested to see how your experiences of things differ from my own. I’m not sure if it’s because of something that was different in our contexts or if it’s a matter of different peoples having different views of similar events.

    If I have some time, I might need to write my own post on the topic. But the short immediate thought — For me SYATP was not about bravery, standing up, or standing out. It was about fitting in.

  5. Addie, SYATP is one of my most vivid memories of High School and I wish I could have read this then to gain some perspective in my well-meaning heart.

    As a chronic late-runner, being at school early was just weird. It was unnatural to saunter around instead of racing from my car to my 1st period seat with only seconds to spare. My HS was huge and barely anyone from my church went there, so SYATP was a surreal mix of wanting to pray and feeling that uncomfortable thing where you’re not sure if you’re scared, proud or brave. (The first two of those feelings you must confess and repent of instantly, and oddly the third you feel proud of-which sends you back to the whole confession thing.) Anyway, the rest of the time was spent thinking, “Becky is a christian??? No way. Paul, yup, saw that coming. MRS. JOHNSON is here? That woman is evil incarnate. How can she possibly know the words to Amazing Grace?”

    Anyway, as a major introvert my school was just too big for me to wrap my head around praying for all these strangers and I always left SYATP (which I faithfully did each year) feeling like I missed something. I do wish I could have read something like to so that I could have given the event the right amount of weight in my mind.

    Lovely and grace-filled writing, as always.

  6. I’m a little older than you, so I was a youth group leader when SYATP started. I still went to the flag pole, before college classes, to stand with the kids in my small group. (Sometimes, I went to 2 SYATP events in one morning. I have no idea how I survived all that in the days before Starbucks.)

    But even though I was a little older, I still didn’t fully grasp what you are saying here. I was raised on an us-versus-them mentality. It was all about standing up and reaching out, not standing next to and reaching over. The difference is subtle, but so important. It’s something that has become key to me. So important.

    I’m trying to raise my kids to know this. “What I hope for you is the courage to be braver still. To have conversations not just with God, but with people.” May we set an example.

  7. Hi Addie,
    What a beautiful post. About ten years ago I was volunteering with a youth group and one of the junior high girls said she went to the pole but she was the only one at her school that showed up. So she stood there and prayed. I could not believe the courage that must have taken – so brave. She did not grasp that she had done an amazing thing. Thank you also for helping me to realize that I don’t have to have the answers to theological questions to show God’s love to someone. I just have to love them.

    thanks again,
    barb

  8. Beautiful, friend. It’s strange to have such a different SYATP experience. My town was predominantly Christian, at least Christian in name, and so it seemed most of the kids at my high school would gather around the pole. It wasn’t an act of bravery. It was practically cool to go. There was a difference between us youth group kids and the rest of them but for that one morning it didn’t really matter. But boy do I wish I had learned to put my answers aside and listen better back then.

  9. As you know, I teach high school. My Teachers Assistant first period is an amazing girl on fire for the Lord. I thought of you and her yesterday. It was raining. She tweeted and facebooked and texted and made sure no one stood out in the rain. She came from the christian school down the street where she was bullied, and she is determined that everyone feel love in our giant public school. I thought of her and you and wished your fifteen year old self could have known her. She loves to laugh.

  10. Sitting down, not standing up. I think this is what I would have said to my teenage self, too. (She probably would have been very suspicious of me…)

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