How I hope God, Education, and Kindness can change a young person’s life
A couple of weeks ago I announced online that I’d been invited to speak at the graduation ceremony for a small group of young men leaving a residential school program designed to help them get their lives on track. I was honored by the request to speak to my teenage self!
I’m also grateful for the words of encouragement and advice and the resources shared by many of you. I can tell that my friends are very passionate about our youth and about education – and that we all believe in second chances. So I thought I would share with you the speech I gave.
Who wants to win the lottery?
Raise your hand if you’d like to wake up tomorrow with $200 million dollars that you don’t have today.
What would you buy with that money? Where would you go? Who would you meet?
Now, concentrate for a moment on the feelings that come with the money, with the things, with the places and the people. Does it feel the same as what you feel in your daily life now? Probably not. Likely, it feels different than you feel today, different from what you perceive your life to be today.
Why is the lottery so attractive? Why do we buy Powerball tickets and hope to win?
The answer is that the lottery offers a chance of maximum change with minimal effort. Who wouldn’t want everything to change—supposedly for the better—without having to really work for it?
We want our lives to be different than they are now—assuming that if life is different, if the stuff and the places and the people are different that we will be different.
Well, here’s the bad news. Do you know that statistically your odds of winning the Powerball are practically the same whether you buy a ticket or not? Hundreds of millions of Powerball tickets are sold, but only a few people win each year. That means that your odds of getting the change you want by playing the lottery are hundreds-of-millions-to-one.
And yet we want that change so badly that we spend our precious resources of time and energy for the slim hope of getting it quickly and easily.
And for those of us with life difficulties, with burdens to bear and serious obstacles to overcome—whether it’s family, personal, emotional, or cultural challenges, here’s another bit of news: We must change. And not the easy way! We must do the hard work to bring about change in our lives. There is no easy way out for us. We are responsible for our development and the work it takes, because no one is doing it for us.
I know what it’s like to be sure that no one loves me, to grow up not knowing what kind of problems I’ll find when I walk in the door of my house, to have parents who are checked out, unavailable, or abusive, to feel like it’s me against the world. I was in a dropout spiral in a family of dropouts, in a school that was trying to make me look stupid, in a world that didn’t want me around.
But something amazing happened for me when I was in high school. I let a teacher inspire me and show me that I could be more than what I was acting like. I decided to start showing up for myself. I realized that my education was for me and that school was not set up for me to fail, to make me look bad, but for me to succeed if I was willing to show up and put in some work.
Then when I was 25 years old, I had to stop drinking and using drugs because it was killing me. I didn’t want to stop. I would have kept going if I could have gotten away with it and lived. But I was scared and wrecked and I asked for help. Through the help of people who were successfully staying sober, I began following directions and learned to my surprise that God was for me, too. And life is much better this way.
The lessons I’ve learned and the personal development I’ve gained from my problems haven’t come easily or cheaply. But I’ve started to understand a very important theme that keeps coming up in my life. That is that problems seem to be God’s way of getting my attention. I have to admit that sometimes I wish God didn’t need so much of my attention, but my attention has to grabbed somehow! God knows I’m not always offering it voluntarily.
And here’s the biggest problem I face as a person with serious personal challenges: No matter where I go, there I am. I can leave here, I can leave this, I can leave them—but I can’t leave me behind for very long.
If I’m going to show up in every new place, situation, or group, then I’d better be the best me I can be so I can make the most of that change. Otherwise, I’ve gotten what I wanted—change!—but it won’t be positive, it’ll be another round of “Oh, no. Here we go again!”
So, the difficulties I have are really my Higher Power trying to get through to me and say it’s time for me to change and develop myself. The first way I do that is by surrendering to and relying upon that God of my understanding—not a God of someone else’s understanding, not a God of someone else’s relationship, but a God of my own direct relationship and understanding. That relationship comes through internal work and really stretching who I think I am. And that relationship is there when I’m ready to seek it.
I told you the bad news earlier about how if I count on the Powerball and other easy paths to bring change into my life, my chances of growing and developing in a meaningful and useful way are hundreds-of-millions-to-one.
Now here’s the good news: when I take the time and focus and energy and money away from the easy methods and put them toward developing myself instead, my chances of succeeding are 100 percent! And that’s mine—no one can take that growth away from me.
Some of you are leaving here today. This program has given you a foundation for turning your lives in a productive and happy direction. But you’re going back into “The real world,” where you’ll have to rely on yourselves more in order to continue in that positive direction.
There are three things I want you to consider focusing on as you go forward: God, your Education, and Kindness.
The True Higher Power is bigger than any problem. I’ve found that I can’t overcome any difficulty without God. Develop that most important relationship and learn to rely upon God.
Your Education is for you. Keep indulging in what you’re interested in and passionate about. Keep improving yourself through reading and education. Keep your curiosity alive and strive to learn more about the world. Don’t ever lose that!
Practice Kindness. Believe it or not, when you approach the world in a kind and gentle manner, the world is usually kind and gentle back. And when it doesn’t seem so kind and gentle, take it as an opportunity to rely upon God and change yourself.
I find that when I work on improving myself, when I’m willing to put in the hard work of looking inside and striving for real change through God, education, and kindness, I always win—100 percent of the time.
I have faith that you will too.
Chris Everheart is a recovering reluctant reader turned award-winning author of books for young readers.
Read his YA thriller described as “unputdownable” and “will draw in even the most reluctant readers”:
A lone teen. A suspicious death. An ancient conspiracy.