Editorial: Extremely tentative plans for the future
There’s a peculiarity about human existence that we’re all familiar with, articulated best by Soren Kierkegaard: “Life can only be understood backwards, but it must be lived forwards.” This is most irritatingly true the few weeks before exams or — even worse — graduation.
The next few weeks we’ll all be living primarily for the future, either studying frantically for exams in order to hopefully get decent grades in our classes to have a better chance of getting whatever our dream job is or, more realistically, just looking forward to the summer.
I have a job lined up with Teach for America, where I’ll be teaching high school chemistry in a high-needs school in Baton Rouge, La. Like the rest of us, I’m looking forward to it with a mix of excitement and complete terror.
Teach for America is an organization that puts bright young professionals (I’ve never put myself in that category before, but, well, here we are) into some of the most struggling schools in America for two years. For me, I’m excited to transition from being a person whose primary occupation is about benefitting myself to a person whose primary occupation is helping others.
Not only that, but I’m excited to live on my own and have full control over everything from what I eat and where to how I decorate my house. It doesn’t hurt that Louisiana has some beautiful national forests and an average temperature of 67 degrees Fahrenheit (51 in January and 80 in August, so it’s basically perfect all year).
That said, there’s a lot I’m worried about. Besides the obvious of being a first-year teacher with little to no prior classroom experience, I’ll be moving to a state several hundred miles from anyone I know, and with a budget that is barely enough to get me there and pay my first month’s rent, let alone buy the car and cell phone I don’t own yet.
Furthermore, there have been genuine concerns about Teach for America as an organization. Some have suggested that it has been used to allow struggling schools to avoid hiring full-time teachers, and others have suggested that it is just another way for well-educated young people to feel like they’re doing some good before entering whichever high-paying field they’re planning on going into.
These concerns play into larger socioeconomic and racial problems in America that I am wholly unequipped to deal with, especially if I’m supposed to be addressing those problems on top of feeding and clothing myself, which I already feel barely qualified to do.
I suspect many of you are in similar boats, even if you’re not graduating. We all want to do something to make the world a better place, but effecting institutional change isn’t just difficult, it requires you to actually know what you’re doing or risk making the situation worse. The problem, of course, is that no one can know for certain that what they do will change the future in a specific way — that’s the whole point of the future.
But nonetheless, I can face the future with hope. Part of this is a decent amount of experience with the past. My parents and my college experiences have prepared me to understand basic financial and health decisions (not that I claim to be an expert).
God knows I’m not the best person to solve entrenched socioeconomic and racial disparities in America. But I’ve learned the lessons of the past: of course no one person (especially not a young, idealistic white man) can end institutional injustice. All I can do is be the kind of person who uses my talents to fight for justice, even when the right path is unclear.
I often take comfort in the promise, given fittingly enough to people in dire fear of the future: “‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’”
But when I stay up at night terrified of whether I’ll be able to change the world, or be a good teacher or pay my rent, it isn’t enough for me just to say, “do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.” Of course today’s trouble is sufficient, but tomorrow’s could easily be worse if I do nothing.
God’s promise is not that you will succeed in your goals for your life, and although God may have plans for our lives, the Bible itself suggests that those plans may be bleak or even thwarted in the short term.
But whatever’s coming my way, or yours, what can never be taken from me or anyone else is God’s promise that “when you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze. For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.”