Monica Greenwood (pseudonym) is semi-patiently excitedly awaiting the day she walks into her first graduate seminar in philosophy. Until then, she is an undergrad studying philosophy at a state school known for its agriculture program.
In contemporary America, we have whittled the purpose of college down to pre-job entry training and partying on the side, so it makes sense that a Christian’s vision of college is blurred by the misconceptions of their culture. Indeed, it makes further sense if we realize that our culture’s vision of the college years is fundamentally distinct from what God’s vision for the college years is. And yet often enough, we don’t see the discrepancy between our vision of college and the Lord’s, and find ourselves being frustrated when He doesn’t deliver the college experience we expect to be our rightfully ours.
If you walk into your first college class expecting that academics will be the main focus and most important aspect of your college career, the Lord may need to do some adjusting in your vision of college. As He transforms us into His image (2 Corinthians 3:18), He moves aside the lies of our culture, as our view of things slowly (and sometimes imperceptibly) becomes transformed into His vision of things. He certainly has needed to do this kind of tweaking in my vision. Along the way, I’ve been forced to learn that academics, while they may make up the pragmatic reason why we attend or do not attend a specific school, are not always the main focus of the Lord during our college years.
I want to qualify my point by noting that not all of my readers’ situations will be similar to mine. Some of you will be called by the Lord to pursue your studies with all your strength, and academics will be His focus for you during your studies. My objective here is to point out that that academics is not necessarily and automatically the focus of God for our time in college.
Over my last break, I began the process of visiting graduate schools by flying down to the South for a visit to talk with counselors and faculty at the top non-secular grad school on my list. I hadn’t expected to love the school as much as I did, or be as blessed and encouraged as I was while down there. I felt the Lord’s presence in my conversations with faculty there, and pieces of my thinking began to click. Christ was honored in word, in deed, and in studies. As a student coming from a spiritually dry state school, visiting the Southern school was like finding an oasis after a long sojourn in the desert. It was water for my soul directly from the Lord.
But when the last cup of coffee had been drunk, the last question asked, and the last sigh escaped as I left the campus that suddenly felt so natural to me, my heart went to resentment at the Lord and what I was returning to in the next few days at my undergraduate college. There was my desert: a small program that simply wasn’t suited to my specific interests, where I didn’t need to work extremely hard in to excel, and most of all, a place where Christian fellowship in the classroom, philosophy in pursuit of knowledge of Christ, was completely absent. It felt like visiting the oasis, only to return to the academic desert.
However as I talked with mentors afterwards, I was reminded that as bleak and frustrating as my undergrad academic experience is, it is frustrating because I am focused on my own goals for my time as an undergrad, not on the Lord’s goals. He clearly sent me to this agriculture-focused state school to grow in Him, to learn from Him, and to learn how to witness to people around me in a culture dominated not by His powers, but by the prince of the power of the air. Has God sent you on this kind of mission to your campus?
Again and again, the Lord has told me that frustration and disappointment with my current situation arise directly from failing to focus on His specific goals for my time as an undergrad. “Remember,” He says, “it was I who placed you where I have you.”
There are other programs, I know, where my needs as an academic student following Christ could be better met, but they would only be better if the Lord was asking me to focus on academics within my undergraduate career. But I’ve found through this experience that His vision is far greater, and far wider than mine. My book-adoring, school-loving heart is focused on the microcosm of a poor academic program, while His vision is focused on the macrocosm of a school where I can take steps in faith to serve Him and share Him with others.
So, Emerging Scholars, let’s guard our hearts, and retrain our focuses. Frustration and resentment can outpour from a heart that is not submitted to the Lord’s vision, and is distracted by our culture’s vision. His plan is for our good, not for our harm (Jeremiah 29:11), and it is our great privilege to rest in that plan, and in His vision.
Editor’s note: The Emerging Scholars Network looks forward not only to future posts by Monica, but also other Emerging Scholars who desire to provide a window into how Christ followers in higher education wrestle with and press on in their calling. As we move toward graduation, I am particularly interested in stories which speak to academic transition (undergraduate to graduate school, graduate school/postdoc to _______, one faculty/academic position to another) — both by those “in the thick of it” and others who reflect back upon the experience. If you desire to contribute to the Emerging Scholars Network blog, please check out this page and drop us a “proposal” via this link.