Farmers Market




Lewis & Quark


Look Up, Not Down

You are never alone even when you think you are
“Decaf latte, please,” I told the barista.
“That’s $4.00,” she said. I gave her the money and took a seat at my favorite table.
Once seated, I unpacked my schoolbooks and set them on the table. As I reached down to get my laptop out of my bag, I saw a pair of black dress shoes scurry past me. A scrap of paper floated down and landed beside my bag.
“Excuse me!” I yelled, “You dropped something!” But my call was met by the jingling of the bell on the door. The person had vanished. Curiously, I looked down at the paper in my hand and unfolded it. I gasped. There in black and white, was my name. Underneath, tiny words ran across the page. “Thank you. I am better. Really. –Lauren” I smiled.
That day. Simply another day in the week before finals. Another day of studying and revising. Another day of hard work.
Lauren and I had decided to meet to study for our finals at the café. We were not really close because of our busy schedules, but we often studied together. As perfectionists and straight-A students, we had a common language and a mutual respect for each other, despite our different upbringings and viewpoints. I got A’s because I liked to do my best in everything. For Lauren, however, her parents pressured her to keep straight grades, fearing failure.
After ordering our coffees, we settled down in our regular corner, wasting no time to set up our laptops and notes. We filled in our study guides rapidly, summarizing what we had already known in a few words, only stopping occasionally to ask a question. As the shadows grew too long to ignore, we shut our books quietly, mentally calculating how much we covered.
 “Ash, have you ever wondered why?” She broke the silence, her voice wavering.
“Mmmhmm,” I replied, still trying to plan my revision tonight.
 “Why we study so had for straight grades? They are just letters on a sheet of paper. Why?” She let out a long breath, letting the question hang in the air.
            I looked up and closed my eyes briefly, thoughts dashing in and out my little cabinets.
She steadied her voice and continued, “Have you ever dreamed of throwing all these grades out of the window? So that you can just not care about the results for once? Do we not say that good grades glorify God and that they bring honor to His name? I always thought that glorifying God meant that others would see His goodness in us and praise Him. Have you ever noticed how others see us?”
            I nodded, waiting for her to elaborate. “They always say, ‘Hey, could you help me with this? You always know the answer.’ or my favorite ‘Oh wow, you didn’t get a high-A either. So I’m okay.’ Really, we are like their standards. A name on a board. Something to measure up to. But what cost do we pay to get those grades? Sleepless nights? Ones that force you to escape into another world? Have you ever had nights in which your thoughts run too fast and you briefly contemplate things? Is this, this fear of failure, all worth a good grade? Are those scores worth a troubled adolescence?” She trailed off, lost in her own mind and pain. Pinching herself, she tried to hold back the tears threatening to fall.
            Choking down her emotions, she questioned, “But where, where is God in all this? Why doesn’t He comfort me? Does He really understand? Why do I feel that He is so far away? Don’t we say that He should satisfy all our needs? Where is He?”
With a jerk, she shut her laptop and stacked it on top of her schoolbooks. “But do you understand? Do you really?” her voice sank to a whisper.
            “Yes,” I heard myself saying, and reached over to hold her hand. That tiny word had reignited the pain I had long buried and nearly forgotten. I had not wanted to relive it, but to fetch my conclusions.
            “I don’t know how much I told you before,” I started haltingly, “In my darker days I had wished I wasn’t a straight-A student, and yet. . .”
Words started pouring out when I stopped thinking about my next sentence. “I think we fear rejection. We want people to respect us.”
I shrugged, “Who knows? Maybe good grades would really give us more choices in the future.” She smiled, encouraging me to go on.
“Perhaps we study hard for the satisfaction and admiration, at least I do sometimes. Only later do we realize that we’ve built ourselves onto the pinnacle of a tower. Suddenly, we fear to fall. Loneliness comes crashing down. But God is always with us. He never leaves. Never. Even when you feel like He has left. He promised that you will find Him if you look for Him. When I study, I can feel His pleasure. I know that He is smiling at me. When I look at the beautiful sunsets and clouds, I think of His favor upon me. Besides, people change their opinions of us easily, but God never does. Neither does our reward in heaven rot nor perish.” I stopped abruptly, suddenly bereft of words. I stared at the wall, holding her hand, praying in my heart for her.
            “Thank you,” she smiled faintly, “I really have to run now, or I’ll be late for practice.”
            We put our things away and hugged each other good-bye. “Look up, not down,” I breathed.
“You too. Take care,” she said as we parted ways in front of the café, going in opposite directions, weighed down with our heavy backpacks.
Returning back to reality with another tinkling of the doorbell, I knew that she would pull out all the better for it, just as I did. For the rest of my study session, my heart felt strangely warmed.
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