graduation goes on

A few weeks from now, it will be four years since I graduated from college. It is one of those personal milestones you might try to tell people about, and they will probably kind of get why it’s important, but only you can really know all that it means to you. Broadly, it means that a little college in a little Tennessee town will no longer hold the majority of my days as an “adult.” Specifically, it means that I’ve fallen in love, changed my mind, lost my way, had my heart broken, re-found grace, and reset my course a thousand and one times since that town sent me on my way.

I’ve grown as much in those four years as I did in my four years of college, but it’s all a little more lonely and a little less exhilarating. Sometimes it seems people don’t want to tell college students this, as if holding out hope that someone will have a better time of it than most of us have. But you have to recognize, before you leave, that college is a helpful but highly artificial environment. College lends a certain rhythm to life, an immediacy to big ideas, an urgency and intimacy to friendship, that just don’t easily materialize in the average adult’s life. Could the things we loved about college teach us about building a happier society? Probably, but it hasn’t happened yet.

I digress.

It was exhilarating, in its own way, to step off a plane in Syracuse, searching for a stranger I knew only by voice to drive me to my new home. It was exhilarating to walk out of a catering shift at Boston’s Museum of Science at 2 A.M. and find myself bowled over by the beauty of a city I’d dreamed for years of living in. But these things are also lonely and exhausting, and in between are many days trying to demand purpose from life, feeling small.

It was worthwhile to learn new things, meet new people, and change my mind, but it was also confusing, frightening, difficult to navigate, sometimes using up all my reserves of generosity and humility.

It made me stronger to work a few 50 and 60 hour weeks there in grad school, to bite my nails wondering if the rent would get paid, made me more responsible to try to plan those things around a long-distance relationship. Those things also felt completely overwhelming and, through the irrational lens of exhaustion, hellish at times.

I wish I’d gotten a tattoo when I left college.

I wish that every day I’d opened my eyes and somehow been greeted by these words: trust the process.

You can’t really see yourself growing. Often other people can, but to you, it just feels like struggle. Far, far too often in the past four years, I have been lost in anger and disappointment because I couldn’t understand the purpose of things. I have needed my stories about How God Was Using Me to remain intact so that I could feel in control. I have wanted to find A Lesson in something that, at the time, seemed to represent only cruelty, or futility, or depressing weather. I have expected, time and time again, that doing my best to follow God would result directly in my own happiness.

When you start a new workout routine, everything in you screams that you should quit because you are so weak. You have to believe that these actions, which seem to do nothing but demonstrate your weakness, are actually making you stronger. When you start a new job, and the routine of it makes you feel utterly unimportant to the world, you have to remember those times you prayed for humility.

At these times, I’ve found myself returning to the stories of the wilderness. I don’t know if that sounds melodramatic, but the wilderness itself isn’t that exciting. It’s where people learn, one day at a time, to trust in God’s provision. It’s where people get over themselves. It’s where people learn to pray. In between all of these exciting and heroic stories are these episodes in the desert, where the purpose of things is uncertain, the way forward is unclear, and the landscape is monotonous. Here, the work of God is slow and inscrutable. Here, there is danger without much excitement, and boredom without much to show for it. But here, God is faithful, and it slowly dawns on us that God’s work is bigger than this moment and bigger than us.

trust the process.

I don’t have to understand every moment of the last four years to see that I have emerged with a much clearer vision of my vocations, a better understanding of the world, a re-sorted list of priorities, and a relationship with God that’s been refined. All are things that could fill up an essay of their own, and none I could have found any way towards other than the twisting paths I’ve traced.

God willing, I will soon be moving into a more stable phase of life—not wondering what I want, but trying to make it happen. Others I know made it to that phase sooner, and some have no desire at all to stop wandering yet. But I wish we could all gather to toast each other for this graduation-versary and tell our best stories we couldn’t have predicted on the day we performed that weird, robed pageant. All those stories would be parts of who we are now, and I think most of us are finding we’re really happy to know these selves. Maybe we’re even starting to really make friends with the process.

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3 Comments

  1. This is beautiful and literally exactly what I needed to read today. Thank you.

    Reply
  2. Beautifully written, much needed 🙂 Thank you

    Reply

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