First day of school

It doesn't matter how old I get or how many years have passed since I've been in school. September always feels like the start of something new. Of course, that's accentuated by the fact that Andrew's life as a computer science professor is measured in semesters. Louisiana kids return to school in early August. September is the height of hurricane season, and there won't be a cool day here for at least another month -- maybe two. But a lifetime of Labor Day shopping for school supplies doesn't disappear just because our residential latitude lost a dozen degrees.

Starting fresh is always a good idea. There's something about putting everything -- both positives and negatives -- behind us that makes it possible for us to begin again. That's true because resting on old victories doesn't keep us going, and dwelling on past failures doesn't motivate or help us to do better. My fourth-grade report card doesn't mean much of anything anymore, no matter how significant it seemed when I first received it. Neither do the things I hope to accomplish but haven't even managed to start. Our lives can only ever be about now.

And yet, so many of us struggle to live in the present moment. Some of us can't seem to pry ourselves free from all that has been. Others focus so much on what's coming that we sacrifice what is for what may never be. We chase our tails, trying to rewrite the past or lock in the future, and all the while we make ourselves incapable of receiving the grace God is offering us right where we are.

It's easy to fall into a rut, to make a home in whatever is familiar, even when it isn't good. And when we do, we wall our souls in. It can be difficult to admit that the devil we know really isn't any better than the devil we don't. But it can also be hard to accept the fullness of freedom God has given us. Why? Because once we realize how free we truly are, we also recognize that we are completely responsible. That is the threshold we cross in the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

Fresh starts are built into Christian discipleship. In penance, we accept where we are because of where we've been. And God accepts us as we are -- in the present moment -- not only because of who we've been but because of who he is and who he created us to be. Confession restores the dignity of our baptism and empowers us to begin again from the starting line, and not from a mile (or more) back. Our God does not hold us back for what we've done or failed to do. He forgives us and calls us forward to a life of beginning again and again and again, as often as we need to do so. No one gets a do-over, but everyone can always start over.

For those who live by faith, every day can be like the first day of school, filled with excitement and hope. We don't necessarily know which subjects we will be taught or even which teachers will exercise the most influence over us in the year ahead. But we do know that we are not alone; that Christ Jesus and all who follow him are with us.

So much of our education depends on showing up and doing the work. The same holds true for our spiritual lives. When we pray, attend Mass, and make ourselves available to others; when we read the Bible, soak in the lives of the saints, or work to correct the faults in our character -- we become more than we were before the first bell rang. We grow. And if we keep growing, we eventually bear fruit.

So here's to beginning again. Whether last year was one of your best or worst, our heavenly Father offers us all another first day of school. Today, before any assignments have been given and any grades have been recorded in the books, the year is full of promise. In the present moment, we are all shiny new students at the academy of faith.

- Jaymie Stuart Wolfe is a Catholic convert, wife, and mother of eight. Inspired by the spirituality of St. Francis de Sales, she is an author, speaker, and musician, and provides freelance editorial services to numerous publishers and authors as the principal of One More Basket. Find Jaymie on Facebook or follow her on Twitter @YouFeedThem.