Preparing for the year ahead
by Brian Radcliffe
Suitable for Whole School (Sec)
To explore what foundations we can establish to set us up for the year ahead.
Preparation and materials
- Have available an image of the Leaning Tower of Pisa and the means to display it during the assembly. An example is available at: https://tinyurl.com/2p9vyuxc
- The parable in the ‘Assembly’, Step 4, appears in the Bible in Matthew 7.24-27 and Luke 6.47-49.
- The inclination to build seems to be instinctual. If you watch a young child with a pile of toy bricks, they will try to put one on top of the other, to build. It’s a natural reaction. However, they love to knock down the tower too!
As children get older, they often attempt more complicated construction toys, with Lego being the most popular. Many children go through a Lego phase, and there is a huge number of themes to suit various tastes.
In the online world too, there are games where we can build farms, cities, empires and much more. Minecraft is just one example.
- When we’re building something in real life, it’s important to get the foundations right. If the foundations are unstable, the building may fall.
You’ve probably heard of the Leaning Tower of Pisa in Italy.
Display the image of the Leaning Tower of Pisa.
- Tower-building was a competitive business in medieval Italy. Everyone wanted the highest tower because it was a sign of prestige.
However, in Pisa, the tower was built on soft ground that contained clay, sand and shells. So, when the building reached a certain height, the weight of the materials caused it to tilt. Thankfully, remedial work and natural settling has meant that it’s still standing, but it’s not the proud edifice that was intended.
- The builders in Pisa should have paid more attention to the words of Jesus.
In one of his parables, Jesus compared two builders. One dug deep foundations and built a house on solid rock, whereas the other laid no foundations and built a house on sand. When bad weather came, which building do you think survived? The one with foundations that was built on solid rock, of course.
Now, Jesus wasn’t giving practical instructions to town planners. Instead, he was referring to metaphorical foundations: the principles, disciplines and support strategies that we can put in place for our own lives.
Time for reflection
January marks the start of a new year, so it’s a good time to examine what we’re building our lives upon, whether that’s in school, in our families and communities or between individuals.
Maybe we could write a list of strategies that we could employ to provide a firm foundation for the year ahead. We could include our intentions for our eating, sleeping and exercise habits, or for planning and setting targets.
Returning to Jesus’ parable of the builders, Christians believe that it’s important to take his words seriously. Jesus explains that the metaphorical foundations to which he’s referring relate to who we turn to for advice. For Christians, the foundations of solid rock are built by someone who listens to Jesus’ words and acts on them. The faulty foundations are built by someone who hears Jesus’ words, but doesn’t act on them. In fact, that’s a bit like not building a foundation at all.
Christians believe that the Bible offers solid advice on many of life’s key issues such as wealth, sex, relationships and priorities. Sometimes, it may not be easy to follow that advice: it may run counter to the norms of our society, and it may contradict what our friends say and do. However, it is a foundation on which we can build our lives.
Some of us don’t have a Christian faith. We may follow another religious faith, or we may have no religious faith at all. Some of us may feel confused when we explore the different options that are available to us in this complex world.
Let’s return to the intention behind what Jesus says: who do you turn to for advice when you’re faced with different options, when you feel backed into a corner, when you need to make a decision?
All of us can think for ourselves in some way, so that’s a good starting point. We can puzzle things out, weigh up the options and investigate the pros and cons. We can help our brains by researching online and in books.
Nevertheless, it often comes down to discussing our dilemmas with friends and family. Perhaps we could identify a few people whom we trust, and whose opinion we respect, and make these our foundation for the coming year. Let’s make sure that we ensure variety, though, rather than relying exclusively on our contemporaries. It’s a good idea to include at least one person from a different generation. Remember: older people may have experienced similar dilemmas themselves.
If we use this kind of approach, we should have the basis for a good, lasting, stable foundation for the year ahead.
‘Lean on me’ by Bill Withers, available at: https://youtu.be/fOZ-MySzAac (4.17 minutes long)
Invite the students to close their eyes and stay silent for one minute.
- During the first 30 seconds, invite the students to consider three issues for which they need some advice. These could be practical, relational, personal or community issues.
- During the remaining 30 seconds, invite the students to identify three or four people to whom they could turn for advice.