To say it has been a long summer has been an understatement. I mean, aside from the fact that it actually was about five or six months, including quarantine, it was metaphorically long, as well. Preparing for this school year was, in and of itself, an adventure. Every time we had a plan, the state or the CDC would issue new guidelines, or new best practices, that would send us back to the drawing board. I felt like a kid building a sandcastle right at the ocean’s edge, only to go inside for the evening and to come out the next morning to find his work washed away. Every day seemed that way.  I know you know the feeling.

I’m so glad we’re back in school, and I know you are, too.

In what was a rare moment of peace in a tempestuous summer, I was on a beach along Highway 30A in Florida. Just past the crowds of Seaside and Watercolor is Grayton, about a 400-yard stretch of beach that is relatively vacant. I made the long walk there every day, so I could just sit quietly, look out at the water, and talk to the Lord. As He so often does, God used His creation to speak to me.

I was standing in the ocean, praying about the past school year, this summer, and all the conflict and turmoil surrounding us. As I was thinking and praying about all these things, I became acutely aware of how my feet and toes were firmly planted in the sand. As wave after wave hit me, each pushed me back, yet none of them knocked me over. And, I was able to keep walking forward, as long as my feet were rooted well.

As I stood there, God showed me that life, and especially this moment in time, is just one thing after another, each hitting me like those waves. When I’m firmly anchored in Christ, relentlessly moving toward Him every single day, the waves still keep coming, but they don’t bowl me over. In fact, I’m able to keep moving forward, just as He calls me to, into whatever He calls me to do, even though, and even as I’m being pelted by the things this life brings. I’m so grateful that the Lord speaks to us when we listen, and reminds us that He loves us, He is with us, and He is good.

I’m sure all of us have some degree of anxiety as we send our children back to school this year. Whether it’s COVID, a new building or school for your child, or even simply a return to a “normal” dynamic after an extended season of what has been an abnormal, extraordinary year thus far, we are probably all feeling some fear and trepidation (albeit mixed with excitement) as the new school year begins. It’s easy to feel fear, because we’re surrounded by it, and encouraged into it. The media traffics in fear, selling it to us minute by minute, with each story more extreme and histrionic than the next. It’s so very tempting to let this cascade of fear wash over our hearts and souls, engulfing and consuming us.  Sort of like waves in the ocean.

As we begin the year, may I challenge you to remember daily that we are rooted on the rock of salvation, in our Lord Jesus Christ?  With the Lord as our Lord, empowered by the Holy Spirit, we don’t see as the world sees. Where it sees fear, we see God’s perfect love for us casting out fear, and abundant opportunities to flourish and grow as sons and daughters of the living God, raising His little sons and daughters.

With this in mind, remember that COVID, and all the other anxieties of life, are distractions, certainly to be dealt with, but not to drive us from our ultimate purposes: to serve the Lord in His mission for our lives. And, as moms and dads, right now a big part of that mission is to love and disciple the kids under our care well.

This year, please don’t let “surviving and getting past COVID” be your highest goal. It’s really not mine.  It’s not ours as a school. Our goal is to help bring every child into a deep, transformational relationship with Jesus, and to learn about all creation from the perspective of God’s Word, because in that Word is truth. Our goal is to model that Word through the way we love our students and each other, and to show them that this faith is not something just well said, but well lived.  Finally, our goal is to create and sustain a community of followers of Jesus who show our kids a better way to live, one that is a far cry from the fear and polarization they see all around them. The early Christians were known as people of The Way- our hope is to continually reveal to our kids that beautiful Way.

As a dad and husband, my goal this year is to shift my last child to college well, and to transition my marriage to one that isn’t simply empty nesting, but one that is fuller nesting, as we more intentionally get to use the things God has taught us to love and serve others better. What’s your goal as a mom or dad this year? What do you want to see in your children? What do you pray God will do in your family this year?  Please let it be something more ambitious than survival or getting past the next thing, the next wave.

Press into Jesus, feel Him in your toes, and keep moving forward to those goals: for your faith, for your family, and for your children.  Pretty soon, COVID isn’t really even going to be a thing. In contrast, you are raising future eternal co-rulers of the New Earth and New Jerusalem. That’s a big deal, so keep moving forward, by God’s grace, against the waves.

Jay Ferguson, Ph.D., Head of School at Grace Community School, writes regularly on his blog, JaysBlog.org