Timothy was a young man, one of Paul’s most trusted companions. He was brought up in a thoroughly Jewish environment by his mother and grandmother who were portrayed by Paul as having tremendous faith. It appears that Paul, on his first visit to the city of Lystra, converted Timothy and entrusted his spiritual life and education to the elders of the church.
Paul wrote to Timothy: “Do not neglect your gift, which was given to you through a prophetic message when the body of elders laid their hands on you.” (1 Tim 4:14) and “Do your best to present yourself to God …” (2 Tim 2:15). In other words, ‘do not neglect your gifts, but do your best’.
Paul exhorts Timothy to put the gifts he received from God to good use and not to neglect them. He further tells him to do his best to present himself to God. This powerful message Paul gave to Timothy is quite relevant to the youngsters of our time. The key instruction given by Paul to Timothy has two parts, namely “do not neglect your gift…” and “do your best…”
According to National Center for Education Statistics, “the status of school dropout rate decreased from 12 percent in 1990 to 7 percent in 2013, with most of the decline occurring since 2000.” Education Week, Children Trends Database, in a released research statistical report dated March 17, 2015 stated that an alarming number of high school students drop out of school each day and that the “percentage of US jobs a high school dropout is not eligible for is 90%”. According to a US statistical report published by the Department of Education in the year 2000, five out of every 100 young adults enrolled in high school in October 1999 left school before October 2000 without successfully completing a high school program. The report also showed that the drop-out rates were significantly lower in schools which dealt with discipline, good behavior, academic excellence and accountability more seriously.
According to a Face book video that I watched quite recently, a driver was pulled over and was detained by the police on the charge that too many things were dangling on the rearview mirror of his car. In 2006, a driver was pulled over by a cop for using obstructive objects in front of the rearview mirror and the case went all the way up to the Supreme Court. It is not unusual to see religious symbols, compact discs, spicy pictures, mini basket, soccer balls, air fresheners and stuffed animals hanging on the rearview mirror. All those things will obstruct the vision of the driver who is supposed to use the mirror to see what is happening on the road behind him as he changes lanes or to keep an eye at the kid on the car seat in the rear. The simple reasoning is that such extraneous things hanging in front of the rear view mirror obstruct the vision and shift the focus of attention of the driver, thus endangering his/her own life and those of others. Focusing on what is important and staying away from distraction is the key here. This is true in all walks of life. When St. Paul says, “let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us” (Heb. 12:1) he is telling us not to get distracted but to keep our eyes right on the target.
Let us think of young John Doe who goes to high school. His grades are poor and he gets plenty of detentions in school. He felt that classes were just plain boring and a sheer waste of time. He detested the fact that he needed permission every time he wanted to hang out with his friends. He hated the fact that he needed to beg for allowance money every month. It did not make any sense to John to go through the hassle of getting up early morning and going to school, rain or shine, when he could have gotten a full time job in grocery store in the neighborhood earning money or collecting good tips at a nearby restaurant and be a free man making his own schedule. He could have earned enough money to buy the sports car he has been dreaming of. He could hang out with his friends as much and as often as he wished, doing whatever he wanted to do his way without any interference from anyone, including his parents. The idea of saying goodbye to studies and taking up a job that pays minimum wage gradually took hold of him. He became ecstatic about such a move that would bring untold relief from a nagging mother, respite from arguments with a hot-tempered father, relief from the embarrassment at school for not doing the home work or for not turning in the term paper on time. In addition, there will be no more academic challenges, no more tensions to rack his brains on biology, organic chemistry, physics or mathematics. Besides, there will be no more peer pressure to abide by a certain type of discipline at school and at home. All these and more for John would be a breath of fresh air and emancipation from all kinds of parental watch and daily frustrations. John was thrilled and he was slowly but surely lured by the short term benefits he would enjoy. The sun rose in the east like any other day but for John it was the day of freedom. He dropped out of school and opted to do things his own way. No chains of any type on his hands and he was his own man. Little did he know then that it was only the first chapter in his life and that a second chapter should inevitably follow as the sun rose and set several times in the sky.
In the second chapter of his life, the relief John got earlier soon evaporated. It became harder by the day for him to make ends meet. He realized that the sports car he flashed around his neighborhood with pride and the long-cherished dream of his life, required the most expensive premium gasoline. He did not even have time to hang out with friends anymore because he had to work 24/7. He had to struggle to meet his most basic needs. Lack of proper education and shortage of skills compounded the problem in finding a decent job in a highly competitive job market. He felt standing alone in the cold while his smarter friends who graduated from college waved and passed by to become professionals earning good money. The very thought of the terrible consequences in getting married and raising a family sent a chill up his spine. Like birds of the same feather flock together, he finds himself in the company of the uneducated school drop-outs. The loss of motivation and the lack of desire to perform better made him a dead stick in the mud with no prospects for the future. John who once thought that dropping out of school and not taking studies seriously would be the best way to get away from academic frustration, now learned the hard way the painful effects of his decision. He started thinking like the Biblical prodigal son that the servants at his father’s home were better off than him. It did not take much time for John to realize ‘all that glitters is not gold’.
There are many young people who take the road traveled by John Doe only to realize in later life that there is a better way. ‘The cow in the picture does not eat’. Theories are useless unless they can be put into practice. Someone once said: ‘Before I got married, I had six theories about raising children. Now that I am married, I have six children and no theories’. Surveys tell us that forty percent of school drop-outs return to school to learn skills or to earn a degree once they learned more about the real world out there. The truth is that one cannot take out what he has not put in. The difference between ‘ordinary’ and ‘extraordinary’ is that little ‘extra’ that makes you excel among peers.
Each of us is blessed with manifold gifts in different ways. God does not want us to neglect those gifts but He wants us to do our best with them. Paul’s words to Timothy are as relevant today as it were thousands of years ago. Regardless of our abilities whether big or small, the important thing is to do our very best. The simple but very important message that I try to convey to my readers is encapsulated in the following poem, written by a celebrated British poet named H.W. Longfellow. I have learnt these lines several years ago as a young boy.
“The heights that great men reached and kept
Were not attained by sudden flight
But they, while their companions slept,
Were toiling upward in the night…”
Life is full of choices. Make the right choice, be smart and refuse to be a loser. For youngsters, the choice is crystal clear. Either sweat now and enjoy later or enjoy now and sweat later. Be wise to choose the first option since God wants us to do our very best with the gifts we have received, just as Paul gives the same message to his trusted companion, young Timothy.