Thursday of Advent III – I Thessalonians 5:16-24 

16 Rejoice always, 17 pray without ceasing, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. 19 Do not quench the Spirit. 20 Do not despise prophecies, 21 but test everything; hold fast what is good. 22 Abstain from every form of evil.

23 Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. 24 He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it.

The young woman sat in my office with tears in her eyes. She had not done well on the examination for the second time. She was not going to pass the class. She would wash out of the program. She had wanted to be a nurse since she was a little girl, she told me. Now what?! There was both a plaintive, lost child and an angry young woman asking that question all at once. I was the religion professor whose class she had enjoyed. She thought I might have answers to some of those questions.

She was not alone. I believe there were many more like her who suffered in other professor’s offices or were too ashamed to admit this to anyone as college plans went awry. One of the drawbacks of commodifying education and making it so expensive is that the stakes of failure have become too high. The truth is that we learn the most when we fail, but for too many, failure has ceased to be an opportunity for growth. They feel that to fail a class or a test means that they are failures as a human being. My classrooms in college were filled with young people who had charted out a future for themselves. They were unprepared for the possibility that plans do not always work out. Watching young people needlessly beat themselves up over failure was probably one of the hardest parts about being a professor. I think we need to help young people learn how to deal with failure better.

What does God want for my life? The young woman who hurled the “Now what!?” question at me was in part asking that question. We tell young people that they can be anything they want to be and that their future is theirs to chart, but we are terrible at giving direction sometimes and they are not so good at listening to it. She wanted someone to give her direction and answers. Her world seemed to have no course charted out anymore. What could she do? These words from Paul are perhaps the Bible’s clearest answer to that question: Rejoice always, pray always, give thanks in all circumstances.  Paul says this is Gods will for us. The next paragraph gives some “how to” advice, but this is what God wants for us: rejoice – for God loves you no matter what score you got on the big exam. Pray – because all your life really depends on him; your life is in his hands. Give thanks – no matter how bad things seem God has blessed you and continues to bless you. There is no failure, no suffering, no hardship, no grief which will overcome that joyful, prayerful, thankful life. That is what God wants for you.

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