And whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord and not to men

Colossians 3:23

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Gap Year: Gaining a Lifelong Education

Living in right relationship with God, ourselves, others and finally in right relationship with the created order is the challenge and hope of many believers. We have all known the sting of a relationship that has gone wrong - and a great deal of time, energy and money is spent trying to find a place of peace. There are so many voices vying for our attention: the voices of our families, educators, political leaders and our friends, to mention a few. Often these voices are dissident and it is not always easy to hear which contains truth and wisdom.

Becoming disciples of Jesus

When Jesus called His disciples to follow Him, He was calling them to a way of life in which the whole person was fully engaged. The same applies to us today. No matter what we tackle in life as disciples of Jesus, there are three basic elements which will either authenticate or erode our best efforts. These elements could be described as knowledge, activity and character.

Knowledge is not that hard to come by, and is more easily accessed than ever before in the history of mankind. The challenge of the day is not so much the acquisition of information, but the appropriate application of the found facts.

Activity levels for all age groups are reaching frenetic proportions. If we are to lead balanced lives some skill will be needed to be able to decide which activities are beneficial and whether or not they are making a contribution to our own lives, and the lives of others.  Character is the moral strength of an individual, and one of the difficulties that we face in South Africa today is that many lack moral strength.

Taking a holistic approach

Although there are overlapping values in various religions, it is the Christian ethos that most accurately addresses an holistic approach to knowledge, activity and character. This ethos positions us to engage in life in such a way that we are constantly growing in our ability to live in right relationships. Whether this education happens at home or within a more formal context, the values are immeasurable in their importance.

We only have one life to live, and we surely want to give it our best shot. A Biblical, Christ-centred approach would be that best shot! Ideally the goal of Christian education would be to identify and establish the core of a believer’s life. The age would not be important other than for the sake of context and content. Every age would be included in this journey of applying knowledge appropriately, engaging in activities that enhance life, and drawing from a well of moral strength at the centre of our beings. 

Preparing our hands, heads and hearts

A not uncommon way of addressing the areas of knowledge, activity and character in the holistic Christian view of living would be the preparation of heads, hands and hearts for the purpose of living well. Heads would be the acquisition of cognitive knowledge and understanding, and would result in greater wisdom on how to live out in right relationships.

Hands is the competent development of the necessary vocational skills that can translate into appropriate behaviour. Hearts is seen as the development of social and personal moral vision. Whether one is a young adult or a parent, it would serve well to consider these three areas when evaluating any form of Christian education. This approach is also relevant for studies in the arts. Is my knowledge increasing and translating into wisdom so that my head works better? Am I more skilled in the things I do so that my hands are more effective? Is my heart fully engaged in life, solidly grounded in the moral rules of social engagement?

Valid criteria to consider for your gap year

Our daughter and son both chose to do a gap year after finishing school. It was a good decision on both accounts. The extra year taken after the intense challenges of high school was time and money well spent. Our daughter stayed in South Africa while our son elected to spend the year in the United States. It gave each of them an opportunity to settle themselves and finally decide on the vocational direction they wanted to pursue. Our son in particular surprised us by changing direction quite radically from his high school thoughts. Both were involved in Christian programmes, and the measure to which their heads, hands and hearts were impacted long term, underlined the strengths and weakness of each programme. Below are a few criteria by which we assessed the validity of the programmes offered:

  • Was the end goal of the year a more meaningful relationship with Jesus
  • Was the process of spiritual formation and discipleship undertaken in the power of the Holy Spirit
  • Was community a value, where both race and gender were appreciated; and
  • Was the course material intentionally grounded in the truths of the Bible?

Taking time to educate our heads, hands and hearts in the Biblical and Christ-centred truths of the Scriptures will enable us to grow in our relationships with God, ourselves, others and our world. We will be more skilled, have greater wisdom and live from a core strength that will sustain us in the journey of our lives – wherever that may take us! May the glory of all the good things that we encounter along the way be credited to God’s account.

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