By Martin E. Willoughby, Jr.
For a number of years, I taught people of all ages how to play tennis. One of the most enjoyable aspects of this job was the privilege to work with junior tennis players, particularly as they prepared for life beyond high school. In the context of teaching a sport, you get to learn about people and their hopes and dreams for the future. For students leaving high school, they are often transitioning from a life of stability, security, and familiarity to a state of change and uncertainty. I recall reflecting with a lifelong friend at the point of our departing to go to different schools, “Nothing will ever be the same.” For students at that age, the world holds so much promise, so much opportunity.
I am excited that Mississippi Christian Living is participating in honoring students that have demonstrated potential to be tomorrow’s leaders. It is an interesting world that these students now face. Aside from the terrible economic challenges, they will meet an arguably post-Christian society in which young Christians are turning away from the church in droves. In the last thirty years, the percentage of young adults attending church has dropped from 33 percent to 25 percent. As documented well in the book Unchristian, young people have not only turned their backs on the church, but also on Christianity.
I am not a doom and gloom person, in fact quite the opposite; however, I believe understanding reality is important in trying to make a difference. These student leaders and the thousands like them spread across this country have an incredible opportunity in front of them. Their hope and excitement is contagious as they are not bound by the artificial ceilings that many of us adults self-impose. They can leverage technology, communications, and social platforms that did not even exist ten years ago. Hopefully, they will enter adulthood in a society that has learned some lessons about overconsumption and materialism. Maybe they will lead us in reclaiming a faith that is attractive because of its authenticity and spiritual fruit.
As I reflect on the challenges and opportunities that await these leaders as they proceed off to college, some key points of guidance stand out.
- Find a Support Team. Find a group that shares your values and can serve as a support base during this time of change. This can be an on-campus group like Campus Crusade or a college ministry at a local church. This anchoring is invaluable in the sea of uncertainty of college life.
- Make Good Friends. Be intentional about friendships that are uplifting. Avoid negative, energy-sucking relationships that bring you down. Your friendships should be catalysts in your upward trajectory in life.
- Find Your Calling. Seek God’s wisdom on the purpose and direction for your life. This is a preparatory phase for your life’s calling. Explore opportunities; learn about potential careers, and travel abroad if possible to expand your horizons. Humbly seek in prayer guidance in these major life decisions.
- Put Your Goals on Paper. Most people don’t have tangible goals for their life; some people have goals, but only have them in their heads—and a very few utilize the power of writing down their goals. Having clearly defined written goals brings clarity, focus, and direction to life.
- Enjoy Today. Enjoy present moment living. Don’t let the past weigh you down or tomorrow capture all of your attention. Time is fleeting and each season of life has its own special times—savor them.
- Apply the Law of Compounding. Use the law of compounding to your benefit in life. Often the important things in life are not urgent and the returns are not immediate. Over time, whether you take care of your health or not, whether you manage money wisely or not, or whether you invest in prayer and Bible study or not, all have a cumulative impact on your life.
- Be a Light in a Dark World. Be others-focused. Ironically, it is hard to be truly happy when only focused on yourself. When we give ourselves away in the daily acts of smiling, listening empathetically, treating others with respect, and encouraging people on their journey, we reflect the light of Christ and our lives have impact.
Knowing that we have students like these in training to be tomorrow’s leaders, I have hope for the future!