Principal’s Message 3/12/21: Grief, Hope and Celebration

Earlier this week, I met with a staff member and we were discussing something that we recalled from over a year ago. As we talked about that event, it dawned on us, that it was something from Term 1 this year. I think 2021 will be the year we felt went on for half a decade. The load we have all been carrying has been large and the upcoming Christmas break is eagerly anticipated. In the light of this and when thinking about what to write for this last newsletter, three words come to mind: grieve, hope, and celebrate.

It is important that we recognise that what we are living through has had a big impact on our community. Events such as this come once in 100 years and we have all experienced losses over the past four terms. At the start of 2020, there were many things that we assumed about this year. That it would be a year of ‘back to normal’, however, circumstances turned out differently and we lost some of the things we were expecting or looking forward to.

The feeling of the weight of these losses can be described as grief. We grieve what we have lost. We also continue to experience anticipatory grief, that is the uncertainty about what the future may hold. News of the omicron variant of COVID raises more questions about what will happen in the future. This uncertainty drains us. It is easy to experience feelings of a loss of safety. And so, we grieve at an individual as well as a community level.

It is important that we name our feelings accurately, so that we can grieve appropriately. There’s denial, which we say a lot of early on: This virus won’t affect us. There’s anger: You’re making me stay home and taking away my activities. There’s bargaining: Okay, if I social distance for two weeks everything will be better, right? There’s sadness: I don’t know when this will end. And finally, there’s acceptance. This is happening; I have to figure out how to proceed. Acceptance provides much power in living through grief. However, its capacity to heal and sustain is still limited.

That leads me onto my next word – hope. In Jim Collin’s book Good to Great, he tells the story about a guy called Admiral Jim Stockdale who spent eight years as a prisoner of war during the Vietnam war. He spent eight years not knowing if he would see his family again, and yet he says he never doubted he would return home. When asked about those who didn’t last as he did, Stockdale replied that it was the ‘blind optimists’ who didn’t last. He says,

“You must never confuse faith that you will prevail in the end – which you can never afford to lose – with the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be.”

Stockdale had the faith and hope that he would prevail, however, it was also limited as his faith was not based on anything other than what he made for himself. When you boil it down, Jim Stockdale is still an optimist.

Christian faith and hope are totally different. As we break for the summer, we also enter the time of the year where Christians celebrate the birth of Jesus, who came to earth to provide a solution to the broken relationship that exists between God and humanity. The Bible calls Christians to be different from optimists or pessimists. It recognises that sin and suffering is real, and we experience much of both. The Bible also calls people to avoid cynicism and pessimism too. This isn’t easy because culturally it is easy to go in this direction. But the message of the Bible is not a pessimistic one.

Rather the Bible tells us that life with Jesus is a life of hope. The Bible tells us that Jesus’ life, his death on the cross, and his resurrection provided a hope built on God’s sovereignty and power. Hope, that is based on God and his promises, allows Christians to confront the most brutal facts of our current circumstances and still have a sure and certain hope for the future. God’s hope looks evil and failure and disappointment and problems and pain square in the face and right in the eyes and says:

You will not win. I have seen the future in Jesus and his resurrection. You will not win. Because my God is bigger, and my King is alive. And so, I refuse to lose.” (from Wisdom in Leadership by Craig Hamilton)

And finally, this is a time to celebrate. This has been a massive year and this week we celebrate the graduation of both Year 6 and Year 12. I want to particularly commend our Year 12 students who have weathered two periods of learning from home including a whole term away from school in their HSC year. No other students in the history of our school or our nation have had an experience such as this. We also celebrate the efforts of our students across the school in our end of year assemblies. Not just those who are receiving awards but all students whose efforts are defined by their character, rather than their circumstances.

I would like to celebrate and give thanks for our wonderful staff who have worked so hard this year, continuing to care and teach throughout this year while managing their own personal circumstances. This has been an exhausting year for teachers in all schools and this break is more than deserved.

Finally, and as I have previously mentioned we are entering the time of year when we can celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ and God’s good plan, to send a saviour into the world. A plan, that when completed will remove all grieving and replace it with perfect celebration.

More than ever, I wish all members of our school community good health and safety over the break. My prayer is that it will be a time of refreshment and connection for you and your families, and it provides the opportunity for you to reflect on the year we have had and consider God’s promise that provides hope.

For a child will be born for us,
a son will be given to us,
and the government will be on His shoulders.
He will be named
Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God,
Eternal Father, Prince of Peace.

Isaiah 9:6

Look! God’s dwelling is with humanity,
and He will live with them.
They will be His people,
and God Himself will be with them
and be their God.
He will wipe away every tear from their eyes.
Death will no longer exist;
grief, crying, and pain will exist no longer,
because the previous things have passed away.

Revelation 21:3-5

Mr Keith McMullen