It’s the final week of the semester, and my students have now finished reading both of the books I assigned.
It’s impossible to teach a writing class without incorporating reading assignments as well. Writers are readers. And students today, more than ever, need to be exposed to books — the ones written by masters of the craft.
The first book we read in class is a novel called The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro. It’s a brilliantly written story with a timeless message.
It’s about an aging butler in England, set in the 1950s. I won’t spoil the ending, but in the final scene, the butler is sitting on a bench having a conversation with a gentleman he just met. Within minutes, the butler is sharing his story with a stranger. And he’s realizing all the choices he regrets making.
Many of my students are away from home for the first time. They’re living in dorms, having fun, and figuring out how to manage their time. And I like having them read this novel — at this critical juncture in their lives — because it opens the dialogue for us to talk about the decisions we make and how our choices affect our futures.
The second book we read together is called A Million Miles in a Thousand Years by Donald Miller. It’s a nonfiction account of a man’s journey, much like a memoir. And in this book too, the author depicts a bench, where he imagines having a conversation with God.
Donald Miller wonders what he and God might have to talk about someday. Miller worries that he won’t have much to say to God when he gets to heaven because he spent so much of his time on earth doing a whole bunch of nothing. Basically, he watched a lot of TV and ate junk food. Until, that is, he decided to get off the couch, ride his bike across the country, hike a mountain in South America, and pursue a girl.
In his book, Miller challenges the twenty-something generation of today to live a life of adventure and purpose.
I love reading these books with young adults who are living on their own for the very first time. We talk about the decisions we’re making now. And if they’re leading to the goals we want to accomplish.
When we get to the end of our lives, what will we talk to God about?
So whenever I see a bench, I think of the scenes in these two books. And I picture that conversation I’ll have with God someday, face to face.
Of course, we don’t have to wait until we’re in heaven to talk to God. We can talk to Him any time, any place.
And that’s really what I think prayer is. It’s talking to Him. Plain and simple. He’s a real person after all. And He wants to hear what we have to say. Yeah, He already knows what we’re going to say, but He enjoys spending the time with us anyway. It’s the time together that matters.
Sometimes when I pray, I picture myself sitting on a bench with God. Maybe that’s silly of me. But it helps me to think of Him being here with me, and not far away in outer space somewhere.
God is here.
And more than anything these days, I want to tell Him all reasons I’m grateful. It’s so easy to become focused on the things we don’t have; then we forget all the blessings along the way.
Gratitude is the cure for spiritual amnesia.
So today, I’m thankful.
I’m thankful God is here, with us.
I’m thankful we can talk to Him about anything. And He understands.
I’m thankful He is patient with me, knowing that I’m on a journey.
I’m thankful His presence is near, when I need Him most.
I’m thankful for students and books and classroom discussions.
I’m thankful I work on a campus where I’m encouraged to pray with my students.
I’m thankful I’ve made it to the end of the semester without getting sick once. (This is no small feat considering I have any number of students coming to class on any given day with coughs and runny noses.)
I’m thankful for the rain and clouds and wet grass.
I’m thankful for umbrellas and coats and rubber boots.
I’m thankful for kids who laugh, and make me laugh too.
I’m thankful for my best friend in the world, who amazes me with crazy fun surprises.
I’m thankful for friends who write and share their lives.
I’m thankful for words that strengthen and encourage.
I’m thankful for this online place, which is, in its own quiet way, its own small bench, inviting you to stay a while, and rest.
I’m thankful for you.