The other day I was talking with one of our kids about my college days. I graduated High School in 1985 and that fall began an odyssey that many of us know as the “college experience”.
Looking back I now realize that I was stuck in the D2 pit (see last blog post) from my freshman year until I was a junior.
Here is what I wrote in a letter I intend to send to all of our kids:
“Regarding college, I couldn’t make up my mind on what I wanted to study or where I wanted to study it. I transferred into 4 different colleges in 4 consecutive semesters. Just think about that one for a few minutes…
After getting off to a strong start academically my freshman year, things began to unravel a bit. I just couldn’t seem to focus. My motivation was waning and I didn’t care enough about what I was “suppose to do” or what other people thought about me to jump through a bunch of hoops that didn’t matter to me. In fact, the only thing I knew for sure when I turned 20 was that I would be making my own decisions and if anyone tried to power up on me to push me one way or the other I was going to push back. Yep – you might say I had a chip on my shoulder.
When I look back on that season, here are the 3 things that stand out to me in crystal clear 20/20 hindsight:
I struggled to trust God after disappointment
The disillusionment I felt with my Christian college experience created a crisis of faith. I was so certain that God wanted me to go to this certain Christian College and study to become a pastor! I had “known” this since I was 16 and had never looked back. But I found the actual experience stifling, disingenuous, and bewildering. On the one hand I was very popular (class president, blah, blah, blah), a hit with the ladies, and pulling a 4-point. But I was miserable.
There were only two possibilities in my mind: either God wanted me to be miserable, or I had not really discerned his will for my life and should never have chosen this college. Neither option was good. So, I pulled back from God, not sure I could trust him. I also pulled back because I lost all confidence that I could truly discern his will for my life. Something had gone terribly wrong, but I didn’t know for sure what it was. Either way, I made an unconscious promise to myself to erect some walls for protection and to only trust myself to figure it out the best I could.
The grass in greener thinking
The reason I transferred to so many different schools in such a short period of time was my belief that if I could just find the right school I would be happy. So, I bounced around a lot. And it took a long time for the realization to dawn on me that the reason I was unhappy was internal, not external. Honestly, I didn’t want to own this. To admit that there was something wrong with me – or broken in me – was just too difficult to accept. I struggled to take full ownership for my own stuff, my own attitudes, and the consequences of my choices. But the reality that these problems kept following me around from place to place finally began to sink in.
God was saying; “You want to transfer schools, that’s fine with me – you want to blame other people for your problems, go right ahead. Let’s see how this works out for you.” For me, I had to do it my way first – and experience first hand the bankruptcy of living my life as an independent, self-reliant person. Eventually I came to the end of myself, I felt exhausted, discouraged and very humbled. My experiment with putting God on the shelf for a few years while I made all of my own decisions wasn’t working out well at all, and by the summer of 1987 I was ready to admit the truth.
Finding a purpose bigger than myself
The turning point for me came in 2 phases. First, Sandi and I started dating again during the summer of 1987. She had just graduated from High School and I was entering my junior year. This was significant for me because she represented a vision of serving God and doing something truly significant in life with her at my side that I had lost sight of in the focus on my own happiness. (That probably sounds very corny, but it’s the truth.) The other shift occurred when I was a living in London. I was asked to lead a Bible study for a group of students during a weekend retreat. It had been a long time since I had done anything like that – and I remember how nervous I felt.
God led me to this passage in Philippians 2:
“In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking on the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death – even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name…”
Looking at the example of Christ with fresh eyes literally changed my life. God was asking me to follow in the footsteps of Jesus – which meant humbling myself. And not only humbling myself, but submitting myself to God (knowing that it would mean sacrifice and suffering along the way) in faith that God, in the long run, had grace, blessing, and glory in store for me. To submit to God, with no strings attached, trusting that no matter what his plans for me were better than anything I could dream up on my own, brought renewal and joy back into my life.
I still remember leading those Bible studies that weekend – I was absolutely overflowing with joy and gratitude. Gratitude because God was including me in his kingdom work of changing the lives of people. I grabbed onto that vision and it has driven the course of my life for over 28 years. Yes, there have been seasons of suffering and sacrifice (the call to follow Jesus is a call to take up our cross and die to the competing gods that call out to us), but I have been blessed beyond measure since that day. I now had a compass – I knew what my true north was, and life started making sense to me and the decisions came much easier.”
My take-aways from this?
- People in D2 have lost their vision and feel disoriented and wary. We don’t need someone to tell us what we are doing wrong in D2, or someone simply to tell us what we should do. We need a guide who knows where he is going to walk alongside us!
- A lack of humility and submission will keep you in D2. Just like AA or any other 12-step program, the first step is to admit your own powerlessness and need for God’s help and control. The pathway out of D2 is spelled “G-R-A-C-E”.
- Healthy Christian community is a powerful antidote for prolonged D2. It was precisely because God had planted me in a group of growing Christians that I began getting traction. Their example, friendship, and challenge to step up and lead made all the difference.