The Neighborhood

Back-to-school jitters never go away

by Sue Washburn

My Facebook feed has been full of first-day-of-school photos, bringing
back memories of the excitement and trepidation about what the school year would bring. The week before the big first day would be full of questions: Who will be in my class?  Who will I hang out with? Will the teacher like me? What should I wear? And the most pressing issue: Will I have to sit by myself in the cafeteria?

The transition into a new grade or school brings up question of belonging and friendship for kids. Questions that we face as adults, too.  We all want a place where we know we’ll find a seat and everyone knows our name, just like theme song from the old TV show Cheers tells us. Since Cheers there have been lots of TV shows about belonging — Friends, How I Met Your Mother and Big Bang Theory to name a few.

These TV shows are popular because they give us a vision of what we long for — a group of people who are with us through good times and bad. We want to belong to a group where we can be our real selves, a place where people know our name, a place where people know our history (the good and the bad) and a place where people welcome us with love and forgive our mistakes.

The popular sit-coms remind us that even as adults we long to belong. We are not immune to the questions and anxieties that plague students each August. New jobs, marriages, and new neighborhoods put us in new places with different groups of people. Places of uncertainty.

Even folks moving into retirement homes face some of the same questions that middle schoolers do. Can I trust the people around me? Will I find people who really understand me? Will I find friends that I can reveal my true self to? Will I end up sad and alone?

The good news of the gospel is that there is someone who knows our name and our history and our fear of not belonging.

There is someone whom we can trust with our true self. Even when life takes us somewhere new, there is no place we can go where we don’t belong to God. In times of uncertainty and change we can remember the promise of scripture: Wherever we go, God is already there.  Deuteronomy 31:8 reminds us:

The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.

 God is ready to shout our names with open arms, to forgive our mistakes and to welcome us with love. When we wonder whether people will like us and if we will find friends, we can trust that we belong to God. When we wonder if we are lovable, we can look to Jesus. He’s saving a seat for us so we don’t have to be alone.


Rev. Sue Washburn is the pastor of Reunion Presbyterian Church on Main Street in Mount Pleasant, Pennsylvania.