Journal Week 36: High School Chapel Speaker

My son Aidan is a senior at Abilene Christian School. Jana also teaches at ACS, as the high school drama teacher.

Because of our family connections with ACS, every semester I'm invited a few times to be their chapel speaker.

Let me tell you this, I've spoken to thousands and thousands of people, but the most terrifying audience I ever speak to is teenagers.

It's not because they are rowdy and not paying attention. The ACS students are wonderful and a very respectful audience. My problem is that I put a lot of pressure on myself to say something meaningful to any audience I stand in front of, and I struggle to know what, exactly, to say to high school students.

To be clear, I have a long list of things I'd like to say. But most of that list would come across as finger wagging. For example, I wish teenagers would spend less time looking at their phones. But do they really need another adult chastising them about spending too much time on social media? Perhaps they do, but that's not the way I want to spend my chapel time. My son is in the audience, after all, and I don't want an eye roll. I want him, and all his friends, to be surprised and intrigued by what I'm saying.

That said, I do spend a lot of time encouraging the students to be kind. I don't care what age you are, I'll deliver that message to you, over and over. Still, after you've said that a few times, you need some new chapel material.

This week I was again the ACS chapel speaker. And I went through my normal ruminations. I've already told them to be kind, so what do teenagers need to hear? And how can I say it in a way that grabs their attention and captivates their imaginations?

Plus, you only have ten minutes...

I eventually settled on the story of Jacob's dream in Genesis 28. After a dream where he sees angels and hears the voice of God, Jacob wakes up and says, "Surely God is in this place. This is the gate of heaven."

Jacob was in the middle of nowhere, and there he found a gateway to heaven. The gate of heaven is everywhere, I said to the ACS students, if we could train ourselves to see it. The gate of heaven might be in 6th period, or it might be in the cafeteria. It might be a home, or it might be at volleyball practice.

So how do you train yourself to see God in your life?

Follow these feelings, I said: wonder, grace, gratitude and joy. Notice where in your day when you feel wonder and awe. Pay attention to how you feel when you receive mercy, kindness, forgiveness, and a second chance. Notice where you feel grateful and thankful, for a friend, a gifted teacher, a loving parent, a chance to do something you love. And lastly, pay attention to joy.

The God in whom we live, move, and have our being is close to you in all of those moments, I told the students.

Wonder, grace, gratitude and joy. These are the gateways to heaven.

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